In a joint report released on Wednesday, international religious freedom advocacy groups sounded the alarm about the dwindling number of persecuted Christians being resettled in the United States from countries where they face severe persecution.
Despite a gradual return to normalcy in society following the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of Christian refugees admitted into the U.S. from the 50 countries listed on Open Doors’ annual World Watch List remains close to historic lows.
According to a report by Christian Post, Open Doors US, a Christian persecution watchdog organization, partnered with the evangelical humanitarian agency World Relief to unveil the latest edition of their report titled “Closed Doors.” This collaborative effort follows the publication of a similar report in 2020.
Advocates, speaking at an event held on Capitol Hill, emphasized the critical nature of the issue. They noted that approximately one out of every seven Christians worldwide experiences high levels of persecution and discrimination. Despite this grim reality, the number of Christian refugees admitted to the U.S. from these 50 countries remains at one of the lowest levels seen in the past decade.
The report highlighted shifts in U.S. policy, asserting that the United States is no longer the safe haven it once was for displaced persons. During the Trump administration, refugee admissions into the U.S. were dramatically reduced, reaching their lowest point during the pandemic. Unfortunately, refugee admissions have not rebounded as swiftly as other aspects of life in the United States.
According to World Relief’s Vice President of Advocacy and Policy, Matt Soerens, by the end of fiscal year 2022, the number of Christian refugees resettled from the 50 countries with the most severe persecution had decreased by about 70% compared to fiscal year 2016.
In fiscal year 2022, the U.S. admitted only 9,538 Christian refugees from the countries listed on the World Watch List. This figure represents less than one-third of the 32,248 Christian refugees admitted in fiscal year 2016, the final year of the Obama administration when nearly 85,000 refugees were admitted.
However, there was a slight uptick in the number of Christian refugees admitted from these countries in fiscal year 2022 compared to the low point of 5,390 recorded in fiscal year 2020.
While the report primarily focuses on the impact of U.S. refugee and asylum policies on persecuted Christians, it also highlights the plight of other minority groups who have been largely excluded from the U.S. refugee resettlement system.
Soerens expressed gratitude for the increase in resettlement but voiced concern about Christian refugees from specific countries where persecution remains severe. Iran, Iraq, Burma, and Eritrea, all of which rank among the worst persecutors of Christians, witnessed alarming drops in the number of Christian refugees admitted between 2016 and 2022.
Soerens also expressed apprehension about new policies and proposals related to asylum, particularly at the U.S.-Mexico border. He cited a rule enacted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under the Biden administration that restricts eligibility for asylum for those entering the U.S. through channels other than lawful ports of entry.
The report points out the challenges posed by a new asylum appointment app, which offers limited slots compared to the number of individuals seeking asylum, creating a situation akin to an “asylum lottery.”
The asylum system in the United States has been described as a lifeline for persecuted Christians and others seeking safety.
The event’s panelists raised concerns about H.R. 2, also known as the Secure the Border Act of 2023. Passed by the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, the bill proposes reforms to the asylum process, including a $50 fee for those seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. Critics, including World Relief President and CEO Myal Greene, argue that H.R. 2 could be a significant obstacle for individuals fleeing persecution for religious reasons.
Soerens further criticized the bill’s efforts to restrict access to asylum and raise documentary standards for asylum qualification, though it still awaits action in the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate.
Greene called on the Biden administration to increase the refugee resettlement ceiling and urged Congress to reinstate the Lautenberg Amendment, which was not included in the most recent House Foreign Operations bill. Named after the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, the amendment was hailed as a bipartisan effort to create a pathway for people from former Soviet republics and specific religious minorities seeking refuge in the United States.
Soerens praised the Dignity Act, a bipartisan effort that aims to enhance border security and expand the capacity for adjudicating asylum claims at the border. The act, sponsored by Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, has garnered support from both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives but has yet to be voted on.