Falling short in refugee resettlement
Politics | Fewer persecuted Christians find safety in the United States each year
by Harvest Prude
Posted 7/16/20, 03:44 pm
Mana grew up in a nominally Muslim family in Iran, but at the age of 20, she married a devout Islamic man. He became physically abusive when she failed to read the Quran or pray according to Islamic customs. On two occasions Mana said her husband beat her badly enough that she believed he meant to kill her. Then things got worse when he found her watching online classes on Christianity.
“A third time, he tried to kill me,” Mana (WORLD changed her name for her safety) told me in a phone interview. She ran away to her uncle’s house, taking her two young sons with her. But Mana couldn’t stop thinking about one Christian teaching from the videos: Jesus promised, “Come to me, I will give you some peace.” She wanted that peace.
Mana found it at a church in Iraq, where she fled to escape her husband. But he found her and made threatening phone calls. After Mana fled again, this time to Istanbul, Turkish government officials raided her home and summoned her for questioning.
Eventually, the U.S. refugee resettlement program accepted Mana’s application. She and her younger son were able to immigrate to Ohio. In between sobs, she told me that her oldest son couldn’t come with her because they were separated when she fled to Turkey.
When Mana tells people her life story, she ends by saying, “I’m really blessed—unbelievably blessed.”
Part of that blessing is the timing of her arrival in 2016. Each year since then, the Trump administration has dramatically cut back the number of accepted refugees, dropping it to the lowest recorded level in 2019. This year, according to a new report from World Relief and Open Doors USA, refugee numbers are on pace to decrease even more, shutting out the most vulnerable as the world grapples with its greatest upheaval since World War II.
“The U.S. government has fallen down on this issue,” David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, told reporters last week.
World Relief and Open Doors USA are making a concerted effort to bring attention to the plight of refugees like Mana who are in danger due to their faith. Advocates say the push is especially important now, as the Trump administration begins to consider where to set the annual refugee cap for the fiscal year starting on Oct. 1.
Since 1980, when the modern refugee resettlement program began, presidents typically have set a ceiling around 95,000 refugees. As a result, an average of 81,000 came to the United States annually. For fiscal year 2020, President Donald Trump allotted 18,000 spots for refugees, and even fewer have arrived.
“We’re not on track to come anywhere close to that this year,” said Tim Breene, CEO at World Relief.
So far, the United States has resettled about 7,500 refugees in the first nine months of the 2020 fiscal year. If current projections hold, the country will admit 90 percent fewer Christian refugees than it did five years ago. In 2015, the United States welcomed 18,000 Christians from 50 countries where persecution of Christians occurs, according to Open Doors. For 2020, the number is projected to be around 950 refugees.
Meanwhile, according to the report, more than 260 million Christians face severe persecution for their religious convictions.
The shrinking refugee numbers run counter to the Trump administration’s stated goal of making religious freedom a foreign policy priority. The COVID-19 pandemic also has hindered resettlement efforts. The administration stopped admitting refugees in March, citing health concerns.
The Trump administration has said its policies are geared toward helping refugees where they are or returning them to their home countries instead of resettling them in the United States. However, Curry said many refugees are unable to return home and only seek refuge in another country as a last resort.
Supporters of resettlement efforts include Tony Perkins, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; and several Catholic groups.
World Relief’s Jenny Yang said she has shared the report with Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, the White House’s National Security Council, and the White House Domestic Policy Council. She also sent it to the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees in both chambers of Congress.
Mana is aware of the dropping refugee numbers, but she still holds out hope that she will be able to bring her oldest son to the United States someday. Even as the report notes that the United States has resettled only 25 Iranian Christians so far this year, she is asking God to allow her other son to join her and his brother.
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