Ethno-Religious Minorities in the Middle East
Ethno-religious minorities in the Middle East have been subjected to ethnic strife and the ravages of war. In Iraq, ancient Christian people once numbered more than 1.5 million, but today are fewer than 400,000. As a human rights advocate and the daughter of immigrants who fled anti-Christian violence in this part of the world, Rep. Eshoo has been a leader in bringing attention to the plight of religious minorities throughout the Middle East.
Together with Republican Rep. Frank Wolf, Rep. Eshoo co-founded and co-chairs the Caucus on Religious Minorities in the Middle East.
In the 113th Congress, Rep. Eshoo and Rep. Wolf once again introduced H.R. 301, bipartisan legislation to create a Special Envoy for Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Asia. This legislation responds to the urgent needs of Christians and other religious minorities who are under siege in the region and who deserve a designated high-level U.S. official to advocate on their behalf. In the 112th Congress, the legislation passed the House with bipartisan, nearly unanimous support, and Rep. Eshoo is committed to working on its passage into law.
Rep. Eshoo has been instrumental in obtaining funds to assist the ethno-religious minorities in Iraq. As a result of her efforts, the U.S. Department of State provided $10 million in assistance to fund a range of medical and infrastructure assistance programs in Iraq. Concerns about how those funds were eventually distributed led her to write a letter, joined by more than a dozen of her House colleagues and four Senators, asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the mechanism the State Department and USAID use for providing this aid. The GAO report found that for initial funds, there was very little accountability for the appropriated money, and no evidence that it was used in the requested regions or for the intended populations. While the process improved over time, Rep. Eshoo maintains critical vigilance over aid efforts for Iraqi’s minority populations. The GAO report can be found here.
In June, 2013, Rep. Eshoo testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on how the ongoing conflict in Syria is affecting that country’s religious minority population. Her testimony can be found here.
In January 2011, she testified before the Lantos Human Rights Commission on the plight of endangered minority groups in Iraq. Following the testimony, Eshoo and other Members of the Commission, including co-chair Rep. Frank Wolf, requested the Administration appoint specific officials at the U.S. Embassies in Baghdad and Cairo to coordinate efforts on behalf of Iraqi and Egyptian minorities.
Following the devastating October 31, 2010 attack on Our Lady of Salvation Assyrian Catholic Church in Baghdad, which left more than 50 clergy, worshipers and police dead, Rep. Eshoo sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton requesting an overdue clarification of the Administration’s policy on Iraq’s minorities, requesting the articulation of a comprehensive strategy for their protection. The State Department’s response is available here.