House Subcommittee Urges Aid To Syria Refugees

Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) with the ANCA team following the Senate Foreign Operations Subcommittee consideration of the FY14 Foreign Aid bill Tuesday

Draft Report Silent on Specific Aid Levels to Caucasus Countries

WASHINGTON—The U.S. House Subcommittee responsible for drafting the Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) foreign aid bill has prioritized humanitarian assistance for populations affected by the Syria conflict, but, for the first time in over two decades, the draft report accompanying the measure failed to cite specific dollar levels for aid to any of the Caucasus countries, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

The ANCA reported earlier this week that the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee has proposed sharp, overall reductions in foreign aid spending for FY14, cutting nearly 20 percent from both last year’s figures and the Obama Administration’s budget request.  This year’s proposed legislation was largely quiet on specific country allocations across the globe. The Subcommittee’s version of this measure will be considered by the full House Appropriation Committee on Wednesday, July 24th, when individual Members will have an opportunity to seek changes and clarifications regarding the bill’s assistance priorities and levels.   The date for full House consideration of the measure has not yet been set.

Plight of Christians and Minorities in Middle East Spotlighted
In the draft report accompanying the Subcommittee’s version of the foreign aid bill, made public earlier Tuesday, appropriators devoted considerable attention to the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, stating that the “events in the Middle East, from the Arab Spring and the conflict in Syria to the continuing transition in Iraq, have intensified the challenges facing minority communities, including Christian populations, within these areas of conflict, instability, and transition. The Committee urges the Secretary of State to continue humanitarian and resettlement assistance for members of these vulnerable communities, both inside and outside their countries of origin.”

The report specifically focuses on the Syrian crisis, noting that “the Committee understands that a majority of Syrian refugees live outside of formal camps, which adds considerably to the strain on the resources of countries hosting them. The Committee recognizes the urgent need to assist in the following ways: (1) help host countries expand their national systems to accommodate refugee needs, such as in the health and education sector, (2) ensure that host countries can continue to deliver basic services to their own citizens, (3) strengthen the capacity of local authorities to respond to the refugee influx, and (4) maintain refugees’ freedom of movement, right to settle in local communities, and access to economic opportunities. The Committee encourages the Department of State and USAID to, where appropriate, assist its partners and the affected host governments in the humanitarian response to the growing number of Syrians who have sought refuge in nearby countries and requested assistance.”

References to humanitarian aid efforts in the Middle East are of particular importance to the Armenian American community, which is actively engaged with the Obama Administration and the Congress regarding the plight of Armenians and other at-risk populations caught in the cross-fire of the Syrian conflict.  While the Armenian presence in Syria has a very long history, the majority of Syrian Armenians are descendants of those who found shelter, safety, and a new life in Syria after the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923. The Armenian community numbered approximately 100,000 at the start of the present conflict. Estimates today are that as many as half of the community has left Syria, some permanently, others with the hope that they will be able to return. More than 10,000 Syrian Armenians have already fled to the Republic of Armenia, and another 10,000 or more have found refuge in Lebanon.

Last week, the ANCA brought together Armenian American civic, church, and charitable organization leaders from across the United States to take part in a U.S. government briefing on Syria humanitarian assistance efforts by the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development.  Among the Armenian American community’s publicly-stated humanitarian priorities, going into this meeting, were:

1. Ensuring the balanced and needs-based distribution of U.S. humanitarian aid to all areas of Syria, including those like Aleppo with large Armenian and other Christian populations;

2. Preventing humanitarian blockades of civilian populations, such as those creating crises in Aleppo;

3. Providing additional assistance to the Armenian government and NGO’s supporting and helping to settle Syrians who have fled to Armenia, and

4. Assisting the Armenian Church and charitable groups in Lebanon as they support the very considerable humanitarian needs of refugees from Syria.

Senate Appropriations Committee Begins its Consideration of Foreign Aid Bill
On the Senate side, the Appropriations Subcommittee on State Foreign Operations presented and approved its version of the FY2014 foreign aid bill, with specific country allocations to be made available to the public over the next several days.  Full Appropriations Committee consideration of the Senate version of the bill is set for Thursday, July 25.  ANCA Leo Sarkisian Program interns were joined by ANCA Legislative Affairs Director Raffi Karakashian at the Subcommittee “markup” of the bill earlier today.  ANCA offices, chapters, and activists have been reaching out to constituents in key Senate and House districts over the past several weeks, urging action in support of Armenian American foreign aid priorities including:

At least $5 million in U.S. assistance to Nagorno Karabakh

At least $50 million in U.S. assistance to Armenia

At least 10% of U.S. assistance to Georgia to be earmarked for job creation programs in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of that country.

Funds for humanitarian and resettlement assistance specifically targeted to Armenian and other Christian populations as well as other minority communities affected by the recent unrest in the Middle East.

Language strengthening Section 907 restrictions on U.S. aid to Azerbaijan.

Removal of barriers to contact and communication with representatives of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic.

Language calling for the participation of Nagorno Karabakh leaders in the OSCE Minsk Group negotiations

Read the ANCA Congressional testimony offered in support of Armenian American foreign aid priorities here.

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