By Malik Ibrahim
One can hardly turn on the news or check their Facebook feed without hearing something concerning the global refugee crisis in these last few weeks. Given the magnitude of the situation this is most certainly appropriate. However, due to these factors another immigration crisis has slipped quietly under the radar. This one involves followers of Fetuhallah Gulen fleeing the current political situation in Turkey to seek asylum in the United States.
Since the coup last July Turkish president Erdogan has continued to blame Gulen and his movement for fomenting the coup. Erdogan also continues to demand that the U.S. extradite Gulen, so that he can stand trial in Turkey. In addition, the Turkish government has been closing Gulen affiliated schools, cracking down on his journalists, imprisoning and torturing his followers. Thus, many Gulenists are fleeing and seeking refuge elsewhere around the world.
In the United States it has been reported that Gulen followers are immigrating to places like Irvine, CA, Seattle, WA, Austin, TX, Washington D.C., Chicago, IL and Atlanta, GA. The estimates for Orange County/Los Angeles and Seattle are over 100 and 20 respectively. In Atlanta around 35 families have resettled. One report out of Austin, TX claims that “approximately 500 Turkish families” have come to Texas since July. Numbers for Washington D.C. and Chicago were not available, but we can guess as the crisis continues these numbers will grow.
An important difference between this group of immigrants and those coming as refugees is their asylee status. In order for them to become permanent legal residents of the United States they must go through The Affirmative Asylum Process. This process is for those who are physically present in the country and fill out an application for asylum within one year of their arrival. After the application is received the applicant must make an appointment for fingerprinting and security checks, as well as an interview with an asylum officer.
One asylum attorney who handles cases for those in the Gulen movement opines:
“In the wake of the failed coup and the vicious crackdown against followers in Turkey and throughout Central Asia, I expect to assist more such asylum seekers in the coming months. Gulen movement supporters who have been persecuted or who fear persecution in their home country due to an association with the movement should qualify for a grant of asylum in the U.S. on the basis of both religion and political opinion. Even those who are not closely associated with the movement, but who fear persecution because the government falsely accuses them of involvement, should have strong cases for asylum.”
Another tragic aspect to this situation is how it has torn families apart. A Turkish man who immigrated to Irvine spoke of how he had to leave his wife and two children behind in Turkey because their passports had been canceled while his was not. He commented “Fortunately, I wasn’t among those whose passports had been canceled…My wife’s name was already on the list, which is why she had to stay back with our children,” he added. “I’m worried sick about them.”
His story highlights that in the midst of another chaotic situation an opportunity is opening up for us to represent Christ to Gulenist Turks in need. The first step in helping this population is to locate a Gulen run cultural center in your locale. This can be done through a simple Google search. One of the first things to notice are the numerous community events that these centers hold which are open to the wider public. These venues can be great places for those in the local church to make contact with the Gulen community and discover the needs of those who have recently arrived.
Many of them come to our country without much English or knowledge about American culture. Thus, offering ESL courses in a local church or at one of their cultural centers is one way to meet this need.
Other ways to assist these people may involve helping them with aspects of their asylum cases. First, make sure that they are educated as to how the process works. This is where tools such as The Affirmative Asylum Process and the Asylum Seekers From Turkey: Current Country Conditions document referenced above will prove useful. Second, volunteering to take them to their asylum case appointments is another way to serve them.
A final idea is simply to offer them your friendship and invite them into your home displaying the Gospel through Christian hospitality.
Uncertainty remains concerning what will happen to Gulen and his movement in the days ahead. The pending extradition case against Gulen is still being decided in U.S. courts and it is not yet clear whether he was involved or not in the coup. The fate of those applying for asylum may change depending on the policies of the Trump administration. Yet, during this time of political and social turmoil surrounding the Gulen movement the local church in North America has an opportunity to reach out to them in their time of need. By walking alongside them now and meeting their needs, bridges of trust can be built and doors for Gospel witness can be opened. May we have eyes to see the “great door for effective work” that God has opened for us (1 Cor 16:9).
 Malik Ibrahim, Beyond the Headlines: Gulen, the Coup, and the Gospel (August 2016) http://commanetwork.com/dig_deeper/beyond-headlines-gulen-coup-gospel/ (accessed February 14, 2017).
 Aynur Jafar and Ismail Shahtakhtinski, Asylum Seekers from Turkey: Current Country Conditions (August 2016) http://islawfirm.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Asylum-Seekers-from-Turkey.pdf (accessed February 15, 2017) 8-9. This document was written to provide background information on the current political situation in Turkey in order to help those fleeing the situation prepare their asylum case.
 Deepa Bharath, Irvine’s new arrivals: Turkish asylum seekers after a failed coup and a sadly successful purge (August 2016) http://www.ocregister.com/articles/turkish-726495-turkey-irvine.html (accessed February 14, 2017).
 Nina Shapiro, ‘Turkey has become dangerous for us’: Failed coup has some seeking asylum here (November 2016) http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/eastside/turkey-has-become-dangerous-for-us-failed-coup-has-some-seeking-asylum-here/ (accessed February 14, 2017).
 Quita Culpepper, Turkish refugees looks for better life in Austin (January 2017) http://www.kvue.com/mb/news/local/turkish-refugees-look-for-better-life-in-austin/381404142 (accessed February 15, 2017).
 The last three locations were obtained through private correspondence.
 This number was given through private email correspondence.
 The Affirmative Asylum Process (February 2016) https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/asylum/affirmative-asylum-process (accessed February 14, 2017).
 Jason Dzubow, Asylum for Fetullah Gulen Movement Supporters? (August 2016) http://www.asylumist.com/2016/08/10/asylum-for-fethullah-gulen-movement-supporters/ (accessed February 13, 2017).
 It is unclear how the Executive Order halting the immigration process will affect those applying for asylum should the order be reinstated. For more information see Gloria Riviera, Candance Smith, Durrell Dawson and Sally Hawkins, In first 72 hours of President Trump’s travel ban, refugees, asylum seekers describe chaos, confusion (January 2017) http://abcnews.go.com/US/72-hours-president-trumps-travel-ban-refugees-asylum/story?id=45167179 (accessed February 14, 2017).