Christian groups say Trump has closed the door on persecuted Christian refugees

WASHINGTON — Despite public statements promoting religious freedom, the Trump administration has failed to provide a lifeline to persecuted Christian refugees and other religious minorities around the world, according to a report by two Christian advocacy groups.

The number of Christian refugees and other religious minorities allowed to enter the U.S. has dropped dramatically under President Donald Trump, according to the report by World Relief, a Christian humanitarian organization, and Open Doors USA, a non-profit that tracks religious freedom.

“With religious persecution of Christians at some of the highest levels ever reported, closing the door to refugees and asylum seekers threatens the lives of Christians — and American Christians must not remain silent,” said the report, titled “Closed Doors.”

In 2019, the number of Christians resettled to the U.S. from a list of 50 countries known for persecuting Christians declined 69 percent compared to 2015, according to the report, which was based on State Department refugee figures.

Six months into 2020, fewer than 950 Christians have been resettled from these 50 countries, compared to more than 18,000 in 2015, the report said. If current trends continue, the U.S. will admit roughly 90 percent fewer Christian refugees from these countries this year than in 2015.

The Trump administration has drastically cut back overall refugee admissions to unprecedented levels, but the COVID-19 pandemic has further restricted the flow. Refugee admissions were temporarily halted in March as the administration cited public health concerns. The suspension remains in place.

A State Department spokesperson said the Trump administration “is prioritizing those who have been persecuted for their religious beliefs in line with our commitment to advance religious freedom internationally, including the protection of religious groups.”

The administration is also providing humanitarian aid to help those displaced by war and natural disasters, the spokesperson said, adding, “In Fiscal Year 2019, the United States contributed more than $9.5 billion to supporting crisis response globally, the most of any country in the world.”

Out of a maximum of 18,000 refugee admissions permitted this fiscal year, the administration specifically allocated 5,000 spots for applicants suffering religious persecution. As of June 30, the United States has admitted 3,564 refugees who have suffered religious persecution, according to State Department data.

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The authors of the report cited examples of declining numbers for particularly vulnerable Christian communities. The United States has resettled 336 Christians from Myanmar in the first half of 2020. In 2015, more than 11,000 Christians from Myanmar were admitted to the U.S.

Only 43 Iraqi Christians have been resettled to the U.S. so far this year, compared to about 1,500 in 2015 and 2,000 in 2016, according to Tim Breene, CEO of World Relief.

“We do believe the U.S. can and should do more,” Breene told a teleconference.

Although President Trump has tended to enjoy strong support from Christian voters and activists, one of the authors of the report, David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, said American Christians should not stay silent on the plight of refugees.

“Christians need to speak out on this issue,” Curry told reporters.

The administration deserved praise for its outspoken support for the principle of religious freedom, he said, and for aid provided to Christian communities abroad, but that did not preclude holding the White House accountable when it comes to its treatment of refugees.

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“It’s not contrary for us to call out where the administration needs to step up,” Curry said. “It’s not right and we need to address it.”

The Trump administration has said its policy is designed to assist refugees where they are instead of resettling them in the U.S. But Curry said that approach ignored the harsh reality that many Christians and other religious minorities face mortal danger and have to seek refuge elsewhere.

Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, praised the report and said it was “shocking” that the U.S. “ has closed its doors to virtually everyone seeking our protection, including persecuted Christians.”

“We must change this policy and remain a leader for religious freedom,” he said in a statement.

The report was calling for helping all those facing threats and persecution due to their faith, and not just Christians, the authors said.

Admissions for other religious minorities also have dramatically declined under the Trump administration, the report said. At the current rate, compared to 2015, admissions this year will drop by more than 90 percent for Muslims from Myanmar, Yazidis from Iraq, Kirat refugees from Bhutan and Nepal, Jews from Iran and Iraq and Bahai refugees from Iran.

Last year, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan group chaired by Tony Perkins, a Christian conservative who has generally supported President Trump, warned against further cuts to refugee resettlement in the U.S., appealing to the White House to restore the number of refugees to the historic norm of about 95,000.

Julia Ainsley contributed.

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