U.S. No Longer ‘Safe Haven’ for Persecuted Christians, Say International Religious Freedom Advocacy Groups
By American Faith – September 25, 2023
Advocacy groups ‘Open Doors US’ and ‘World Relief’ have jointly released a report raising concerns about the drastically reduced numbers of persecuted Christians being resettled in the United States from countries known for high levels of persecution and discrimination.
The “Closed Doors” report, unveiled at a Capitol Hill event, emphasized that about one in seven Christians globally is experiencing high levels of persecution and discrimination, yet the intake of Christian refugees in the U.S., especially from the 50 countries listed on Open Doors’ annual World Watch List, has been exceedingly low in the past decade.
Matt Soerens, the Vice President of Advocacy and Policy at World Relief, stated, “By the end of fiscal year 2022, the number of Christian refugees resettled from the 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution was down by about 70% compared to the fiscal year 2016,” Christian Today reports.
The report highlights that although the U.S. admitted 9,538 Christian refugees from the listed countries in fiscal year 2022, this figure is less than one-third of the 32,248 Christian refugees accepted in fiscal year 2016.
The current numbers, though showing an increase from the low of 5,390 measured in fiscal year 2020, draw attention to the significant drops from countries like Iran and Iraq, which saw 95% and 94% decreases, respectively, in the number of Christian refugees admitted between 2016 and 2022.
The report explicitly points out that the U.S., once a refuge for displaced persons, is no longer maintaining its status as a safe haven due to recent policy shifts.
“Recent shifts in U.S. policy reveal that America is no longer the safe haven for displaced persons that it once was,” the report states, addressing concerns about the reductions under the Trump administration and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to the distressing situation for persecuted Christians, other minority religious groups also face considerable obstacles in the U.S. refugee resettlement system.
Myal Greene, World Relief President and CEO, criticized H.R. 2, the Secure the Border Act of 2023, as an “incredible impediment to supporting and bringing a pathway for asylum for individuals who are fleeing for religious reasons.”
The bipartisan Dignity Act, sponsored by Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, (R-FL), is being viewed as a promising alternative.
Soerens lauded it for its potential to invest $35 billion into border security and to augment adjudication capacity at the border.
He asserted this act could provide a comprehensive framework to efficiently “verify asylum claims,” allowing people to complete the process “closer to the border and not necessarily be distributed across the United States.”
Addressing new policies and legislative adjustments, the report drew attention to the Department of Homeland Security’s rule under the Biden administration which limits asylum eligibility to those entering through lawful ports of entry.
Soerens voiced concerns over the impact of such policies on persecuted Christians, stating that the U.S. asylum system has been “a lifeline for persecuted Christians who were unsafe where they were living and whose only hope was to get to a safe place.”
Greene and Soerens both advocated for the restoration of the Lautenberg Amendment and urged the Biden administration to raise the refugee resettlement ceiling.
The amendment, renowned for its bipartisan consensus, was designed to create a pathway for people from former Soviet republics and specific religious minorities.
Unfortunately, this amendment was not incorporated into the most recent House Foreign Operations bill, causing concerns among advocates.
The advocacy groups, while expressing gratitude for slight increases in resettlement, emphasized the urgent need for further improvements in the asylum and refugee policies to adequately address the plight of persecuted Christians and other minority groups.
The urgency of the situation is underscored by the concerning statistics from countries like Eritrea and Myanmar, which have seen declines of 85% and 92% respectively in Christian refugee arrivals, according to Christian Today.
Greene concluded with a call to action, urging a reconsideration of policies and emphasizing the essential need for fostering a supportive environment for individuals fleeing due to religious reasons.
The report serves as a critical reminder of the foundational principles of the U.S. as a sanctuary for the persecuted and the need to uphold these principles in the face of changing policies and global crises.
Read the full report.