Vice President Mike Pence announced the establishment of the Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Program on Thursday “to rapidly deliver aid to persecuted communities, beginning with Iraq.”
Speaking July 26, at the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, Pence said that he hopes that the genocide recovery program “will not only deliver additional support to the most vulnerable communities,” but also “embolden civil society to help stop violence in the future.”
The Christian and Yazidi minorities of northern Iraq were decimated by the Islamic State in 2014. While these communities are beginning to rebuild, the mass atrocities and ethnic cleansing they endured cannot easily be overcome.
Nadia Murad, a young Yazidi girl, was in the audience listening as the vice president shared her story.
“Four years ago, the butchers of ISIS entered her village and slaughtered more than 600 Yazidi men and boys, including six of Nadia’s brothers and step-brothers. Then they stole Nadia away and all the young women, and subjugated them to the most degrading form of human slavery.”
“Thousands of Yazidis remain missing to this day or in ISIS captivity,” he continued. The Yazidi women who have survived and escaped the Islamic State, like Nadia, have returned with stories of rape and torture.
The new initiative will bring together funding from the U.S. government and “the vast network of American philanthropists and believers,” said Pence. The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development will partner with local faith and community leaders to ensure “this support will flow directly to individuals and households most in need of help.”
“America will help the victims of ISIS reclaim their lands, rebuild their lives, and replant their roots in their ancient homelands so that all religions can flourish, once again, across the Middle East and the ancient world.”
Pence also used his address to the Ministerial to demand the release of American evangelical Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been detained in Turkey since October. The vice president said that, unless Turkey acted swiftly, sanctions would be imposed.
“To President Erdogan and the Turkish government, I have a message on behalf of the President of the United States of America: Release Pastor Andrew Brunson now, or be prepared to face the consequences.”
“If Turkey does not take immediate action to free this innocent man of faith and send him home to America, the United States will impose significant sanctions on Turkey until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free.”
According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Brunson was moved from a Turkish prison to house arrest on 25 July. The commission has advocated for the pastor’s release, along with that of six other prisoners of conscience in China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Vietnam, and Eritrea.