The United States’ rejection of the asylum applications of around 100 Iranian Christian refugees is an insult to the country’s Christian and humanitarian heritage.
The Christian refugees, many of whom can recount stories of the discrimination and persecution they have experienced at the hands of Iranian authorities, now have less than a week to leave Austria, where they have been stranded for more than a year. They had expected to be given entry to the US under the Lautenberg humanitarian programme, but now face potential deportation back to Iran.
The decision by the Trump administration to reject the applicants – and to seemingly shut down the entire programme – is a betrayal of Iranian Christian refugees, which has been slammed by US law makers. A group of Democrat and Republican Congressmen have written to Vice President Mike Pence “on behalf of a small group of suffering Middle Eastern religious minorities seeking refuge from Iran’s repressive regime”.
Their letter states:
“This sudden change in policy – from almost a hundred percent acceptance rate [under the Lautenberg programme] to nearly complete rejection – makes no sense, even on security grounds. Some applicants are reported to be elderly and/or disabled, making it hard to imagine they represent a security threat … there is no evidence that others admitted through this program have ever been a threat to the U.S. … The law is clear: these applicants should be presumed eligible for refugee status.”
The decision has also been denounced by representatives of humanitarian organisations, who have accused the US Government of “hypocrisy” for criticising the Iranian regime and encouraging protests in the country, but refusing “to provide safety to those who flee and are not safe from the Iranian government.”
The Lautenberg programme under which the refugees were to have been given asylum in the US was established in 1990 by US Senator Frank Lautenberg. He served five terms in the Senate and campaigned for legislation to create a programme to resettle persecuted religious minorities, initially from the Former Soviet Union. In 2003, Congress voted to expand the Lautenberg Amendment to establish a legal presumption of eligibility for refugee status for Iranian religious minorities. Since then, about 30,000 Iranians have been resettled in the US under the Lautenberg programme. These include members of Jewish, Mandaean, Zoroastrian and Bahai religious minorities, as well as Christians.
All of the 100 Iranian refugees in Austria were financially supported by a sponsor in the US and had been granted prospective refugee transit visas by the Austrian embassy. They had already been interviewed by the Department for Homeland Security and, in one case, family members had been informed their relative would receive a US visa in early 2017. But while President Trump has previously stated that Christian refugees who have faced persecution would get priority, under his administration, the Lautenberg programme has effectively been shut down.
The rejection of these 100, mainly Christian, Iranian refugees is an insult to American’s Christian and humanitarian heritage, which the Lautenberg programme was set up to defend, and a betrayal by the Trump administration.
In the UK, the British government has also been guilty of hypocrisy in its approach to Christian refugees, while claiming to uphold religious liberty. The British government has discriminated against Christian refugees from Syria. Western governments seem to be making political capital by condemning persecution of Christians, while deliberately rejecting those who are persecuted – be it Iranian Christians rejected by the US, Syrian Christians rejected by the UK, Eritrean Christians rejected by the Israeli government, or Christian converts rejected in Sweden and Austria.