The number of Christian refugees admitted to the United States after fleeing persecution in their native countries has plummeted 90 percent since 2015, according to a report released Friday by two Christian advocacy groups.
Though the report said people from a variety of religions have been shut out of the United States by a steep decline in resettlement in the past three years, Christians have been hit particularly hard.
“Among those most disadvantaged have been Christian refugees from the countries where Christians face the most severe persecution in the world,” the report said.
The annual ceiling for all refugees was set by the president at 18,000 this year, compared with a historic average of 81,000 and down from 110,000 that President Barack Obama said should be admitted in his last year of office. In 2018, Canada surpassed the United States as the world’s leading harbor for refugees, taking in 28,000 people, while 22,000 came to the United States.
So far in 2020, fewer than 950 Christians have been resettled from the 50 countries where discrimination against Christians is particularly acute. If the pace continues, the report said, this year’s level will be almost 90 percent below the 18,000 Christian refugees admitted five years ago.
For people fleeing some countries, the decline has been even more precipitous. In the first six months of 2020, 336 Christians from Myanmar were allowed to come, down from more than 11,000 settled in 2015. Only 43 Iraqi Christians were settled in the first half of the year, compared with 1,500 in 2015 and 2,000 in 2016.
A State Department spokesperson said that in fiscal 2020, 5,000 places were set aside for people subject to religious persecution. As of June 30, a total of 3,564 people had been admitted.
Even as governors and mayors have pleaded with the administration to allow in more immigrants, the White House has repeatedly slashed the number of refugee admissions. At times, the admissions have not even reached the lowered ceilings set by the president. With just three months left in the current fiscal year, fewer than 7,600 refugees have been accepted, less than half the announced cap.
Christian conservatives who have supported taking in the persecuted faithful in years past have been among Trump’s most stalwart defenders. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an evangelical Christian who keeps a Bible on his desk, has championed the cause of religious minorities around the world. The State Department has a bureau that handles refugee resettlement, though the applicants are screened by the Department of Homeland Security.
David Curry, president of Open Doors, which supports persecuted Christians around the world, applauded the way the State Department under Pompeo has addressed the issue of religious liberty. But Curry characterized the sharp drop in refugee admissions as “a shortcoming.”
“The secretary of state and others within the State Department need to recognize now, three years into this administration, that they have fallen down on this issue,” he said. “This is an opportunity for them to really speak to people, who are people of faith around the world, whose lives are in danger, who have been unsettled from their homes, targeted by governments, targeted by extremist groups. This is an opportunity for them, and they need to step up.”
Curry and Tim Breene, the head of World Relief, called on the administration to restore the level of refugee admissions to at least 95,000. They said that would include not just Christians but people facing all kinds of discrimination, including based on their faith.
“We’re committed to the biblical teaching of all people are made in the image of God and worthy of protection from persecution,” Breene said. “So we’re not arguing that the U.S. should provide protection only to persecuted Christians. But we do believe the U.S. can and should do more.”
The groups asked Christians to urge elected officials to prioritize the advancement of religious freedom and to pray for the protection of persecuted Christians “wherever they are.”