CWS Urges Support for Religious Minorities Persecuted by ISIS

March 31, 2015

Dear Members of the United States House of Representatives:

As a humanitarian agency that brings together 37 member communions, Church World Service urges you to support H.R. 1568, The Protecting Religious Minorities Persecuted by ISIS Act of 2015, introduced by Representatives Vargas (CA-51), Rooney (FL-17), Conyers (MI-13) and Hunter (CA-15).

During the past few years we have witnessed an alarming rise in persecution of religious minorities in both Iraq and Syria by the group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS). The human rights violations that have been perpetrated by this group have been widespread and have left more than 10 million people in need of humanitarian and protection assistance both within Syria and in surrounding countries. Religious minorities in ISIS-held territories have been subject to persecution and have fled in the thousands to the safety of Kurdish-held areas and neighboring countries. Religious minorities being targeted and killed by ISIS include Christians, Yezidids, Shabaks, Turkoman Shiites, Coptic Christians, Druze, Mandeans, Assyrians and others. These communities that have been forced to flee their homes in search of safety are in need of both international humanitarian support and expedited access to the United States Admission Program.

While this crisis is complex and requires a variety of solutions, refugee resettlement plays a strategic role in alleviating pressure on host countries in the region, galvanizing international awareness of the human costs of the crisis, and providing durable solutions and opportunities for a new life for vulnerable populations fleeing persecution. Many European countries have welcomed Syrians through resettlement and humanitarian admissions schemes, including Germany pledging to accept 30,000; Sweden to resettle 2,700 and with more than 9,000 asylum applications pending; and Norway, France, Austria, Finland and other countries working to provide protection and resettlement to Syrian refugees. While traditionally a world leader in refugee resettlement, the United States has resettled only a modest numbers of Syrian refugees. The U.S. process of rigorous background checks, fingerprinting, medical screenings and interviews with Department of Homeland Security officials is the most difficult way to enter the United States, routinely taking longer than 1,000 days.

The Protecting Religious Minorities Persecuted by ISIS Act of 2015 would provide persecuted groups in Iraq and Syria, including religious and ethnic minorities and individuals facing gender-based violence, with access to Priority Two processing in the United States Refugee Admissions Program. It would also open additional processing entities in the region, increase the number of personnel devoted to processing refugee applications and streamline the existing systems for conducting background and security checks. H.R. 1568 would also expand the use of video interviewing and improve accountability and transparency around denial decisions. Ensuring that the resettlement process is an accessible and timely lifeline is critical for the more than 3.8 million refugees who have fled to neighboring countries.

As Congress considers The Protecting Religious Minorities Persecuted by ISIS Act, CWS encourages all Representatives to co-sponsor this legislation and uphold our country’s tradition of providing refuge to the world’s most vulnerable individuals. CWS is committed to working with both chambers of Congress and the Administration to improve access to humanitarian assistance and resettlement for Syrian refugees.


Erol Kekic
Director, Immigration and Refugee Program
Church World Service