Persecuted Christians Increasingly Denied Asylum in U.S.

Persecuted Christians Increasingly Denied Asylum in U.S.

As thousands of immigrants cross the United States’ southern border illegally every week, a recent report by two global Christian relief organizations has found that the U.S. has reduced the resettlement of Christians fleeing global persecution by 70% compared to 2016.

Open Doors, which annually ranks the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian, and World Relief, a global Christian humanitarian organization, issued a joint report in September that in 2022 the U.S. government resettled barely one-third of the number of Christian refugees who were granted asylum in 2016.

In 2022, the number of Christians resettled from the worst 50 countries for Christian persecution on Open Doors 2023 World Watch List was down 70% from six years ago. Last year, 9,528 Christians were resettled from those 50 countries, down from 32,248 in 2016.

For example, the number of Christian refugees resettled in 2022 compared to 2016 from Eritrea (#4 on the 2023 World Watch List) was down 85%, Iran (#8) down 95%, Myanmar/Burma (#14) down 92%, and Iraq (#18) down 94%. Just 1,044 Christian refugees from those four countries were resettled last year, compared to 12,883 in 2016.

The joint report’s analysis revealed that in April 2021, shortly after the Biden administration took office, it surprised and dismayed many refugee and religious freedom advocates by limiting the refugee resettlement ceiling at the historically low level of 15,000 for fiscal year 2021.

Gayle Manchin, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) chair, noted that this historically low refugee ceiling “fail[ed] to reflect that unprecedented numbers of individuals worldwide [who] are forcibly displaced by conflict or persecution, including based on their religion or belief.”

Former USCIRF Co-Chair Tony Perkins insisted that “to stand by our nation’s commitment to religious freedom, the United States should be a safe haven for persecuted religious communities.”

After this pushback, President Biden reset the refugee resettlement limit at 62,500 for the remainder of fiscal year 2021—but the U.S. still failed to even reach the initial ceiling of 15,000 by the end of the year.

According to the report, the U.S. is on track to resettle approximately 60,000 refugees in 2023 if trends continue, in spite of a ceiling set at 125,000 refugees. With these modest increases, the U.S. has yet to return even to the pre-2017 average resettlement level of approximately 81,000, despite a dramatic increase in the global need for resettlement.

The report states that in May, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security implemented a new regulation that, with limited exceptions, restricts eligibility for asylum for those who enter the U.S. other than at a lawful port of entry. A new app designed to request asylum appointments at ports of entry, however, offers significantly fewer appointment slots than the number of individuals seeking to request asylum, creating a situation that some have described as an “asylum lottery.”

Matt Soerens, World Relief’s vice president of advocacy and policy, issued a statement saying:

“Today, most Christians in the U.S. recognize the great blessing it is to live in a country with strong protections for religious liberty— where, though in some settings we may be mocked or disliked, very few of us live in fear of losing our lives or being forced to flee our homes because of our faith in Jesus.

“We rightly take pride in our country’s long legacy of offering refuge to those persecuted for their faith in other parts of the world. However, as this updated report shows, that legacy—and the well-being of tens of thousands of brothers and sisters in Christ—could be at risk unless we as a nation recommit ourselves to a robust refugee resettlement program and to due process for those seeking asylum. And as Americans exercise another vital freedom, to elect our president and other leaders of our nation, I pray that candidates of all backgrounds will stand for religious freedom by supporting robust refugee resettlement and asylum policies.”

Photo: Avi Werde /

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