The federal government has pledged $55 million in aid for religious and ethnic groups that have faced ISIS persecution in Iraq’s Ninewa Province, drawing praise from the Knights of Columbus, a supporter of humanitarian efforts in the region.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced last week that the government will provide $75 million to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for aid to Iraq, including the $55 million earmarked for communities of Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities. Future contributions from USAID will depend on the success of new accountability and transparency measures at the UN, according to the announcement.
The earmarked funds will help to rebuild communities in areas of Ninewa Province previously controlled by ISIS. According to USAID, the money will be used to restore basic services, like water, sewage, and electricity, as displaced religious minorities return to the region. Most of Ninewa’s religious minorities, including the majority of its Christian population, fled Mosul over the last decade. The Yazidi population had been persecuted by ISIS, and many Yazidi women were sold into sex slavery or killed.
The province, located in the northern part of Iraq, contains the city of Mosul, an ISIS stronghold until July of 2017, when it was decimated in the Battle of Mosul, which ousted ISIS and liberated the city. Mosul has still not recovered from the battle, which lasted for more than nine months.
Last year, speaking at the In Defense of Christians summit, Vice President Mike Pence promised to provide assistance for Christian communities in the Middle East that were at risk of being wiped out.
Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus issued a statement Wednesday saying that the group is “grateful” for the increased funding, and that they look forward to continue collaboration with NGOs and government agencies to support Christians and other groups persecuted by ISIS.
“We are grateful for the actions of the American government in this regard, and look forward to continuing to work with our government and those affected by the genocide to ensure that needed relief reaches those most in need, and that these communities survive for generations to come,” the statement read.
The Knights also praised the funding increase, saying that the United States is now treating the genocide of Christians in the Middle East in a manner similar to other genocides, and will help to continue to weaken ISIS’ influence in the area.
“In addition, the U.S. government's actions bring America's foreign aid into line with our country's response to previous genocides and will also help defeat ISIS' overall strategy of eliminating minorities from the Middle East,” Anderson said.
In August 2017, the Knights of Columbus pledged more than $2 million to rebuild the Christian town of Karamdes, which was decimated by ISIS. The group has raised more than $11 million to support Christian refugees, especially in Iraq and Syria. In 2016, the Knights, in partnership with In Defense of Christians, led a successful effort to persuade the US government to designate ISIS persecution of Christians and other minorities a genocide.