MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: resettling refugees.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: An estimated 26 million people around the world now meet the formal definition of refugee. That means they have fled their homes due to a well-founded fear of persecution. Christians make up a disproportionate number of those refugees.
BASHAM: The United States was once a beacon of hope for Christians seeking to escape persecution. In 20-15, more than 18,000 Christians from 50 countries known for persecution made new homes in America. But this year, fewer than a tenth of that number of Christian refugees are expected to get permission to resettle in the United States—that’s a 90 percent decline for people who arguably need safe haven most.
BROWN: Earlier this month, Open Doors USA and World Relief issued a joint report about the challenges facing refugees and the U.S. role in their struggles.
WORLD senior editor and chief international reporter Mindy Belz wrote about the report in her latest column for WORLD Magazine and joins us now to talk about it. Good morning, Mindy!
MINDY BELZ, GUEST: Good morning, Myrna.
BROWN: This new report from Open Doors and World Relief contains some startling numbers. Tell us what the numbers mean.
BELZ: That’s right. The 90 percent decline we see across 50 countries is actually worse when you look at some individual places we’re all familiar with, countries where we most often hear about Christian persecution. The number of Christians from Iran admitted to the United States, for example, has fallen 97 percent over the last five years. That means fewer than 50 Iranian Christians of hundreds who have qualified for asylum in the U.S. will be admitted this year. The number of Christians from Iraq has fallen 95 percent, and for Christians from Burma, we’ve seen a 94 percent drop.
These are groups I think that most Americans would gladly welcome as refugees. And it’s a trend that affects not only persecuted Christians: Jews from Iran, for instance, down by 100 percent. Muslim Rohingyas from Burma, down by 95 percent. So, I just think that looking at these numbers, we can only conclude that the U.S. refugee resettlement program is being—quite literally—zeroed out.
BROWN: You’re right, you’re right. Why did Open Doors and World Relief decide to issue this report now, in the middle of a pandemic with borders closed everywhere?
BELZ: From talking with heads of both organizations, they see a troubling disconnect—both within the government and within the church. And these are groups that have decades of experience in these fields.
Open Doors is a watchdog for global persecution. World Relief as the only evangelical refugee resettlement agency in the country. The Trump administration has repeatedly highlighted the importance of international religious freedom and it’s truly made important advances in raising it as a domestic and global issue. The president only last month issued an executive order on highlighting international religious freedom in U.S. diplomacy.
But yet, when we come to this particular issue and we talk about victims of persecution, we undermine our own policy by not being willing to take in at least some of these people. And it looks to others like we aren’t willing to walk the talk.
BROWN: In your column you mentioned proposals by the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to redefine key terms under the 1980 Refugee Act. What are those terms and how will those new definitions change asylum eligibility?
BELZ: They’re really basic terms, such as persecution. … And … the definition of “persecution” becomes this: “an extreme concept involving a severe level of harm that includes actions so severe that they constitute an exigent threat.” That’s a mouthful. And exigent threat is terminology that can be used to shut out almost anyone. One group pointed out that you’d have to have a gun pointing to your head in order to qualify as an exigent threat. So, again, it potentially makes it very difficult for anyone to qualify under this kind of terminology.
BROWN: Christian refugees who once would have come to America, where are they settling now? Are other countries taking them in?
BELZ: Two years ago Canada surpassed the United States as the leader in refugee resettlement. Australia and the United Kingdom are the other leaders in this area. But all these countries have nowhere near the capacity of the United States, and there’s real concern that without robust U.S. leadership in this area, the doors elsewhere may shut. That would leave millions of desperate people forced into crowded camps, taking risky boat rides at sea, adding to instability in the world.
BROWN: Mindy, what can we do as Christians? What should we be doing?
BELZ: First of all we can pray. And we should be praying for our brothers and sisters who face harm and harm to their families all day long. I think we can also, you know, there’s a place when we see this kind of disconnect, … We can petition our elected representatives. And that includes our local ones and the president, the State Department, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice.
I think there’s a real concern among people who’ve been working on this issue for a long time that the church just is not engaged, that we pray in our pews on Sunday but don’t actually look at the policy involved. And I think we can close that gap. And I think we can have a robust refugee policy that doesn’t undermine our security. And that actually promotes the role of the United States in the world while protecting our brothers and sisters.
BROWN: Mindy, thank you for this report. Mindy Belz is WORLD’s senior editor and the author of They Say We Are Infidels, a book about Christian survival in Iraq and Syria. Thank you again, Mindy … I enjoyed it.
BELZ: I enjoyed it too, Myrna. Thank you.