Tempers flared during the hearing as lawmakers noted the disproportionate numbers. Some compared the crisis in Iraq and Syria to Jewish persecution during the holocaust.
“We have innocent people in the hundreds of thousands—if not millions—who are in jeopardy of being slaughtered in the same way the Jews were slaughtered in the holocaust,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. “This is wrong, this is absolutely wrong. This is like sending the Jews back and saying we’re going to have a more open policy with the Nazis but the Jews aren’t going to be able to come in.”
Earlier this year, religious liberty advocates urged the State Department to recognize the atrocities against Christians and other minority faith groups in Iraq and Syria. The Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians compiled a 278-page report detailing acts of violence and targeting of minority groups in the region.
One week later, on March 17, Secretary of State John Kerry agreed with the report and issued a genocide declaration, only the second time in American history an administration has declared genocide amid ongoing conflict.
But advocates say the State Department needs to ramp up aid for Christians and others trying to escape persecution.
“The world’s greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II is unfolding now in the Middle East. In addition to millions of refugees, many of the region’s indigenous communities now face extinction,” said Carl Anderson, Knights of Columbus CEO. “American policy should recognize the important differences in the situations of those fleeing violence and those targeted for genocide. And we should prioritize the latter.”
According to Anderson, the Christian population in Iraq has dropped more than 80 percent, with 70 percent fewer Christians in Syria since ISIS rose to power. The Islamic militants have driven millions of Christians and other faith minorities out of their communities and murdered thousands because of their faith.
Smith said it’s important not to have a religious test or discriminate against refugees trying come to the U.S. but insisted current figures are inexcusable and those targeted for genocide need to have priority.
He criticized the Obama administration for conflating strategies of taking down terrorists and helping civilians in distress. Smith said the United States needs more effective monitoring and response systems for those targeted for genocide in the Middle East.
“For years, the administration has been unwilling to effectively address the slaughters in Syria and Iraq,” Smith said. “If it still thinks it has no obligation to act, it will likely continue its policy of acting too little, too late.”