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US provides $2.5 mln in humanitarian assistance to Christians sheltering in KRG

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The US government on Thursday provided 2.5 million dollars in humanitarian funds to Christian authorities, in an effort to aid internally displaced persons from the faith in the Kurdistan Region.

The fund was provided to the Chaldean archdiocese of Erbil's new NGO, the Ankawa Humanitarian Committee by US Consul General in Erbil Rob Waller at a ceremony Thursday morning, and is meant for Christian IDPs who have fled to the Kurdistan Region from other parts of Iraq due to the Islamic State (ISIS) group.

Bashar Warda, the archbishop of Erbil's Chaldean Catholic Church, is the founder of the humanitarian committee.

"This award commemorates the strong friendship and cooperation between the archdiocese and the United States," Waller said during the ceremony. 

The US consul general praised the Erbil Chaldean archdiocese for being "among the first to respond providing food, housing, medicine and desperately needed shelter" for thousands of Christian IDPs and others who fled ISIS during the group's brutal takeover of Mosul in mid-2014.

Last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the United States would provide nearly $204 million in additional humanitarian assistance for the people of Iraq, Iraqi refugees and communities hosting them.

“This assistance will provide critical shelter, essential healthcare, emergency food assistance, and water, sanitation, and hygiene services across Iraq. It will also improve access to civil documentation and legal services, the capacity of health care facilities and increase access to education and livelihoods opportunities,” Pompeo said in a statement. 

The Kurdistan Region is predominantly Muslim, but prides itself on religious tolerance.

Churches of different denominations can be found across many cities and villages in the Region.

When ISIS seized control of vast swathes of northern Iraq in summer 2014, thousands of Iraqi Christians fled their homes, seeking shelter in the Kurdistan Region.

Churches in Ankawa took in thousands of displaced people in 2014 before they were resettled in camps or emigrated abroad.

In its 2018 report on religious freedom, the US State Department described Iraq as a country in “danger of losing its ancient Christian community.”

However, it acknowledged “increasing space for religious freedom” in the Kurdistan Region where many religious minorities in Iraq prefer to live.

Around half a million Christians were estimated to live across Iraq prior to the rise of ISIS.

Christian community leaders have told Rudaw English they estimate around 200,000-250,000 Christians remain split between the Kurdistan Region and elsewhere in Iraq, with many others having emigrated abroad.

According to the US Embassy in Baghdad, this funding "brings the total for the US humanitarian response for Iraq to more than $706 million since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2019."

The US government has additionally provided "$49.5 million in COVID assistance in Iraq and more than $22.7 million to date in Fiscal Year 2020 to assist over 244,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq."
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