Fewer Christians fleeing persecution in their own countries are being taken in by the United States partly because of fluctuating US policies on refugees and partly as a legacy of the pandemic.
That’s according to a report by Christian ministries Open Doors and World Relief which found the refugee intake of persecuted Christians plunged by 70% over six years. The report titled Closed Doors revealed the number of Christians coming to the US from countries named on a prominent persecution watchlist dropped from 32,000 in 2016 to 9,500 in 2022.
A combined total of just over 1,000 believers arrived from persecution ‘hotspots’ like Myanmar, Iran, Iraq and Eritrea with minority religions often ignored by both Republican and Democrat administrations. Both Presidents Trump and Biden slashed the refugee ceiling during their terms to as low as 15,000 a year — the lowest in 30 years.
Religion News Service (RNS) reports the pandemic led to the dismantling of infrastructure that was vital to the resettling of refugees. It said the investigation by Open Doors and World Relief concluded that more persecuted believers needed to be accepted by the US, writing: “As Christians, we believe that all people have the right to religious freedom and that religious minorities of any sort — not just those who share our Christian faith — should be protected. The tragic reality is that many areas of the world simply aren’t safe for Christians, and Christians fleeing persecution need a safe haven in the United States.”
The decline in Christian refugees comes at a time when the persecution against Christians is on the rise, said Ryan Brown, CEO of Open Doors. He believes some American Christians may have lost sight of the importance of refugee resettlement because of the current polarisation of the nation over immigration and the surge of asylum seekers and migrants at the border.
Last year, the US refugee intake ceiling was raised to 125,000, but only half that number could be accepted because of infrastructure obstacles. It has just been confirmed that the ceiling will remain at that level for the next year. However, quotas are being shifted to accommodate more asylum seekers from Latin America and the Caribbean to reduce the need for vulnerable people to make the dangerous journey to the southern US border.
That could impact on the number of persecuted Christians accepted from elsewhere in the world. According to the current annual watch list compiled by Open Doors around 360 million Christians face “high levels of discrimination and persecution” — up from 260 million in 2020. Much of the increase has come in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to Mr. Brown, many Christians in countries where there is persecution want to stay there, often feeling called to minister in difficult situations, but a significant number are forced to seek a safe haven elsewhere in the world.