By Dan De Luce
The Trump administration has denied asylum to more than 100 Iranian Christians and other refugees who face possible persecution in their home country, despite White House promises to relieve the plight of religious minorities in the Middle East.
The group of refugees, mostly Christians along with other non-Muslims, have been stranded in Vienna for more than a year, waiting for final approval to resettle in the United States. Now they face possible deportation back to Iran, where rights advocates say they face potential retaliation or imprisonment by the regime in Tehran for seeking asylum in the United States.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has vowed action to alleviate the suffering of Christians in the region and the administration has condemned Tehran’s treatment of religious minorities. But critics say the decision on the Iranian Christians shows the administration had failed to live up to its own rhetoric.
“The hypocrisy of this administration has no boundaries,” said Hans Van de Weerd, vice president for U.S. programs at the International Rescue Committee. “It criticizes the Iranian regime, encouraged the protests, but refuses to provide safety to those who flee and are not safe from the Iranian government.”
The Iranians applied for visas under a U.S. law known as the Lautenberg Amendment, designed to provide special refugee status to persecuted religious minorities, allowing them to resettle in the United States. The 1989 law was originally written to help Jews in the former Soviet Union and later was expanded to include Christian and other minorities in former Soviet states and Iran.
Before President Donald Trump entered office, similar refugee cases under the Lautenberg Amendment had an approval rate of close to 100 percent. Prior to arriving in Vienna, the refugees go through initial screening, and Austria then issues transit visas on request of the State Department. Once in Austria, the refugees are interviewed by U.S. authorities.
In the past, the procedure took a matter of weeks or a few months. But the process has ground to a virtual halt under Trump’s tenure, and rights groups say the administration could be violating the U.S. law.
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