genoWASHINGTON — Legislation sponsored by a New Jersey GOP congressman to protect minorities in the Middle East from attacks by the Islamic State passed the U.S. House by voice vote Tuesday.

The Iraq and Syria Relief and Accountability Act was sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-4th Dist.) in response to mass killings of minorities, including Christians and Yazidis by the terrorist group, also known as ISIS.

Under the bill, the U.S. government would fund groups, including religious ones, providing humanitarian assistance to survivors; identify warning signs that minority groups in Iraq or Syria could be targeted; and support investigations of such war crimes with an eye toward preserving evidence that later could be used in trials.

“The existential threat to Christians and Yazidis and other minorities continues to this day,” Smith said on the House floor.

Smith last December toured a 6,000-person refugee camp in the Kurdish region of Iraq at the invitation of the archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda. He said at the time that about 75,000 Christians were forced to leave their homes and now live in the Erbil area.

“While there, I saw much joy, love and courage, despite the loss of family and friends to ISIS,” he said in his floor speech. “They had hope. The children sang Christmas carols with smiles and reverence, but astonishingly last year — or any year — they have not gotten any assistance from the United States.”

He said the lack of U.S. funding has hindered efforts to help the refugees, even as private religious organizations try to help.

Smith said when ISIS fighters are captured, “we should help ensure that in addition to being screened and prosecuted for terrorism, they are screened and prosecuted for atrocity crimes.”


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