The flow of Christians resettling in the United States from countries where they face persecution has decreased by as much as 90 percent over the past five years, according to a disquieting new report published by World Relief, an international Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to serving refugees and displaced populations, and Open Doors, a global watchdog of religious freedom.
The report also states that the decrease in resettlement of other refugees, including Jews from Iran and Muslims from Burma (Myanmar) is likely to be even greater by the end of 2020.
Midway through this year, the U.S. admitted fewer than 950 Christians from 50 countries on the Open Doors USA 2020 World Watch List for the persecution of Christians. (North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen, Iran and India top the list of countries perpetrating “extreme persecution,” according to the report, with “very high persecution” in such countries as Syria, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Maldives and Iraq.)
“Globally, more than 260 million Christians face high levels of persecution for their faith,” the report states, pointing out that although Christians in non-Western countries are among the most disadvantaged groups, they face additional harm because of the sharp reduction lately in U.S. refugee resettlement programs.
“When individuals facing violence and pressure at home determine it is no longer safe to remain, some make the difficult decision to migrate—hoping and praying to find a safe country that will welcome them,” says the report.
“Religious liberty has often been heralded as the ‘first freedom’ enumerated in the U.S. Constitution,” states a letter in the report signed by World Relief President Scott Arbeiter, World Relief CEO Tim Breene, and Open Doors CEO David Curry. “As Christians, we believe that religious liberty is an inalienable right, endowed by God, that can be neither bestowed nor withheld by any government.”
“Tragically though, as U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback has noted, ‘the religious freedom central to our experience at home is still encroached upon in many areas of the world.’”
In stark contrast to the current resettlement of Christian refugees, more than 18,000 Christians were permitted into the country in 2015, according to the report, Persecuted Christians and the U.S. Refugee Resettlement and Asylum Process.”
“The United States has long set the standard for the global agenda on refugees and asylum seekers,” the report noted. “Yet recent shifts in U.S. policy reveal that it is no longer the safe haven for displaced persons that it once was: The ‘Golden Door’ that Emma Lazarus poetically described as the gateway to safety and liberty for those ‘yearning to breathe free’ has largely closed shut in recent years.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, which disproportionately impacts the poor and underprivileged, worsening the plight of refugees, warns the report. “With 134 refugee-hosting countries reporting local transmission of COVID-19, the pandemic is an especially dangerous threat to displaced persons,” many of whom are housed in underfunded, high-density refugee camps ill-equipped to cope with their medical needs.
“But as many of the world’s wealthier countries battle the pandemic domestically and tighten foreign travel restrictions,” the report continues, “the political climate has become unfavorable to displaced people who desperately need global aid, exacerbating trends that began even before the global health crisis.”
The cap on refugees for fiscal year 2020, which ends September 30, has been set at 18,000 individuals. “However, in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer than 7,600 refugees have been resettled, with just three months remaining in the fiscal year and the resettlement program still largely halted,” says the report.
“While we can and should do all we can to advance religious liberty abroad, we must also continue to offer refuge to those who have felt they had no choice but to flee. We must not close our nation’s doors on the persecuted.”
Prominent Christian groups, such as the National Association of Evangelicals, the Southern Baptist Convention and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which lead more than 90,000 congregations, have commented on the report’s findings.
“As Christians, we’re concerned about the wellbeing of all people who have faced persecution, including the many who are persecuted for their Christian faith” World Relief President Arbeiter states. “While we can and should do all we can to advance religious liberty abroad, we must also continue to offer refuge to those who have felt they had no choice but to flee. We must not close our nation’s doors on the persecuted.”
“The global reality is that more people than ever before are facing discrimination, violence, and even death because of their choice to practice their faith,” Open Doors CEO Curry said in a July 10 news statement. “Religious persecution is not an isolated problem: it overlaps with an array of issues that together impact Christians.”
The report points out that recent proposals to amend asylum regulations—such as efforts to “significantly redefine key terms contained within longstanding U.S. law, including ‘persecution,’ ‘well-founded fear,’ ‘torture,’ ‘political opinion’ and ‘particular social group’—are likely to further impede the ability of persecuted individuals, including Christians, to gain asylum in the U.S.”
“Our intent,” Curry said, is to “recognize, prevent, and address these issues by engaging on each point at which religious minorities are suffering.”
From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.
The Church publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.