Beyond Loudoun’s Borders: Helping the Persecuted

Beyond Loudoun’s Borders: Helping the Persecuted
Perhaps the nicest refugee camp in Iraq—in Ainkawah, Kurdistan. Still a horrible way to grow up. Photo by Stephen Hollingshead.

By Stephen Hollingshead.

Watching a gleeful pack of three and four-year-old boys play in the gravel outside their refugee camp in Ainkawah, Iraq, I was caught up short.

I realized none of them could remember the homes they lived in on the beautiful Nineveh Plain when ISIS chased them out in June of 2014, killing many of their relatives for being Christians.

And according to the United Nations, when someone enters this kind of camp, it takes on average 17 years to find a way out.  That’s just not acceptable.

That’s why I’ve worked with my friends at In Defense of Christians (IDC) to start the Haven Project to create a zone of safety and economic opportunity in Northern Iraq for minorities persecuted by ISIS.

We’ve been blessed with some success so far.

Early on, the Obama Administration made several statements to the effect that ISIS’s persecution of Christians did not rise to the legal definition of genocide.  Under the law, for example, genocide victims have priority immigration status and, even more importantly, a right to return to their homes.

So we teamed up with the Knights of Columbus to document the genocide. IDC and the Knights produced a 300-page report documenting the genocide for Secretary Kerry and we delivered it at the National Press Club.  Around the same time, we worked with Congressman Jeff Fortenberry and co-sponsor Anna Eshoo to pass a resolution defining ISIS’s persecution as genocide.

Rep. Fortenberry announced his introduction of the genocide resolution last September, and I’m proud that our Congresswoman here in Loudoun, Barbara Comstock, played a pivotal role in moving it through the House with an historic unanimous vote. She picked up Frank Wolf’s mantle on this issue and has run with it.

Within three days of that unanimous vote, Secretary Kerry was on TV issuing a formal declaration of genocide on behalf of the President. This is only the second time in history that the United States has declared a genocide while it is still in progress — and while there is still time to do something about it!

That victory gets us to the starting line.  Now we need to run the race.

What can we do to help?

Many good people want to bring the victims of genocide to the United States and other Western nations.  It would cost in the hundreds of billions of dollars to do so, it’s controversial, and there just isn’t enough money.  The better approach is to help them stay nearby and recover their homes – and it’s what they say they want when we personally ask them.

Consider this:

Genocide is not only rape and murder; it is eradicating a people from a place. This is what ISIS is doing in the Middle East, and the desire of victims to go home and revitalize their communities deserves our respect and support.

These trauma victims have suffered not only visible injuries, but invisible ones too. Humanitarian relief of the sort offered by governments and charities may meet their physical needs for a time, but only economic self-sufficiency can create sustainable communities. And, just as important, only the self-sufficiency of a job can bring reconciliation to those who have suffered the loss of their sense of dignity.

Related to this is the need for victims to recover their own communities so that their sense of human agency is recovered. Political legitimacy is fostered by their participation in self-governance.

We cannot wait for Mosul to fall; the long tail of economic revitalization takes much time and effort, and must begin now in earnest.

This is why I will continue to travel to Iraq.  To help displaced families map out their assets (job skills, local investors, etc.), and connect them with American and European investors, distributors and mentors who want to help.

We in Loudoun County can help from here too by connecting with friends in our faith, business and social communities who might be congenial to helping the victims of ISIS.

This is the time to move past rhetoric and help victims of persecution help themselves by recovering their economic self-sufficiency. It’s not a partisan thing to do; it’s the humane and right thing to do.

Dr. Stephen Hollingshead is an entrepreneur and business consultant who promotes peace through free enterprise. He directs the Haven Project at In Defense of Christians, and can be reached at