UK should follow Trump and give aid directly to Middle Eastern churches, says former cabinet minister

A former cabinet minister has called on the UK government to follow Donald Trump's example and divert aid for the Middle East away from the United Nations and directly to persecuted religious groups on the ground.

Theresa Villiers, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland under David Cameron's premiership before resigning after Theresa May took over, said the aid department should give money directly to churches instead of going through the UN's humanitarian arm.

The former secretary of state for Northern Ireland said although there was 'merit' in Trump speaking for persecuted Christians, leaders 'ought to express ourselves in very temperate terms'.Reuters

'I am slightly sceptical about big international programmes whether it is the EU or the UN,' she told Christian Today.

Villiers added she would support the White House's policy after Vice President Mike Pence announced the US State Department would no longer fund the UN's relief efforts and instead funnel support straight to faith-based organisations. It comes after claims from religious leaders in the Middle East that bilateral aid failed to reach people on the ground.

Villiers was speaking at the parliamentary launch of the persecution charity Open Doors' report on the worst countries in the world to be a Christian.

'The UK directly working with groups on the ground can be more effective and also means we have greater accountability and transparency when it comes to where our money is going,' she told Christian Today afterwards.

'A switch back to domestic decision making and direct control would be very helpful.'

Open Doors' CEO Lisa Pearce said the charity did not endorse that position but did call for caveats and conditions to countries who receive UK aid money and persecute Christians.

'In lots of countries we need to look beyond the usual channels to make sure aid is being distributed fairly,' she told Christian Today.

Lisa Pearce addressed MPs in the Houses of Parliament last night and said much more needed to be done to reverse the growing tide of persecution.Open Doors

'We need to get more creative and more grassroots in the ways we distribute aid,' she added.

'I would love to see some of contingency on a demonstration of how that aid will be distributed equitably and for checks and balances in the reporting back to the UK that gives us visible transparency as to whether that is happening in practice.' 

Open Doors released its annual World Watch List – an extensive report of the 50 countries where Christians face the worst persecution – last week and held a reception for MPs on Wednesday night. The report calls on the government to use its aid budget as a means 'to ensure that the right to freedom of religion or belief is protected around the world'. But it stops short of calling on the UK to follow the US and circumavigate the UN.

It comes after Mike Pence announced the White House's chance in policy in a keynote speech for the lobby group, In Defense of Christians. 

'Our fellow Christians and all who are persecuted in the Middle East should not have to rely on multinational institutions when America can help them directly,' the Vice President told the audience at the annual gala in October. 

The snub heightened tensions between the US and UN as he branded the agency's relief efforts 'ineffective'. 

'Here is the sad reality,' he went on. 'The United Nations claims that more than 160 projects are in Christian areas. But for a third of those projects, there are no Christians to help. The believers in Nineveh Iraq have had less than two per cent of their housing needs addressed and the majority of Christians and Yazidis remain in shelters. Projects that are supposedly marked finished have little more than a UN flag hung outside an unusable building, in many cases a school.'