Still, this progress in Iraq is just one element of the Trump administration’s broader ambitions to promote protection of persecuted religious and ethnic community members and ensure that religious freedom is deeply rooted in American foreign policy. Toward this end, USAID is helping to execute the president’s bold vision through our lifesaving work, and won’t stop until all are free to carry out their faith without fear or reservation.
This issue is more urgent than ever as religious intolerance is rising at an alarming rate around the world. No faith community is spared, including Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs. Authoritarian regimes like the one in Beijing are openly at war with faith because they feel threatened by believers.
Yet, few examples match the barbaric and genocidal actions taken by the so-called Islamic State which rose to infamy in 2014 and instituted a reign of terror across Syria and Iraq. Radical Islamists forced Christians and Yazidi civilians to flee millennium-old towns and villages because of their convictions and beliefs.
Others unable to flee were slaughtered (some crucified) for refusing to abandon their faith. Yazidi women and girls were taken as sex slaves. Countless were reportedly maimed, brutalized, and tortured in unspeakable ways. In the face of such injustice, Trump and Pence intervened to put an end to the agony and restore hope to millions.
In October 2017, the Trump administration made the historic decision to provide assistance directly to persecuted religious and ethnic minority groups in Iraq and Syria. Pence directed USAID to undertake this all-important task. The results of our investments in these communities have been extraordinary. Since 2018, the U.S. has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance directly to vulnerable communities, including Christian and Yazidi communities in Iraq. This generosity is helping rehabilitate critical public infrastructure, restore essential services, improve access to jobs, and grow local businesses. Most importantly, families are returning to their homes and rebuilding their lives.
Partnerships with faith-based organizations like Samaritan's Purse, Catholic Relief Services, and Yazda carry out this important work on the ground. And through our New Partnership Initiative, we’re working directly with local humanitarian groups for the first time. One example is the Shlama Foundation, which is training engineers and helping provide inexpensive electricity to hundreds of families.
Yet, assistance to vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq is just the start. Last June, Trump signed an executive order to further incorporate religious freedom into American foreign policy and assistance. This executive order directs the State Department and USAID to expand existing religious freedom efforts and is well-timed considering the persecution faced by so many, particularly from the Chinese Communist Party.
More than 1,000,000 Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups have been detained in internment camps in China’s Xinjiang region. Beijing has also destroyed mosques, cultural sites, and ancestral cemeteries. There have also been credible reports of forced abortions and sterilizations of Uighur women. Chinese Christians face religious persecution as evidenced by demolished churches, Bible bans, and government-sponsored bounties against unregistered house churches.
Other groups across the globe face intense persecution too. Rohingya Muslims in Burma are subject to violence and ethnic cleansing. Islamist extremists and totalitarian regimes in Africa and Latin America, continue to commit atrocities against religious groups, including Christians.
Despite these challenges, the American people have brought relief and hope to beleaguered communities in these countries. We will not stop until our aid reaches these groups and effectively responds to violations of religious freedom.
Communities facing persecution for their religious beliefs should know they have a powerful friend in the U.S. and Trump. America has always been a voice for the persecuted, and we will continue to champion the cause of international religious freedom until all are safe to worship freely.
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