Iranian Christian refugees in Turkey no longer eligible for US resettlement scheme

Iranian Christian refugees in Turkey no longer eligible for US resettlement scheme

Iranian Christians in Turkey are no longer eligible for resettlement to the US as part of the refugee sponsorship programme launched last year, despite Iran being re-designated last week as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) by the US Secretary of State for “having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom”.

The US State Department has regularly designated Iran as a CPC for its continued religious-freedom (FoRB) violations, including against Christians, and last January Iranian Christian refugees were given fresh hope when the US launched a new sponsorship scheme under which refugees may be resettled.

Article18’s report in June 2023 on the ‘The Plight of Iranian Christians Claiming International Protection in Türkiye’ highlighted the “critical need” for new resettlement opportunities and sponsorship programmes for Iranian Christian refugees.

However, the US State Department recently removed Turkey from the list of countries from which refugees may be resettled, in another blow to the many hundreds of Iranian Christian refugees currently stuck in Turkey.

“Some of the Iranian Christian refugees in Turkey interviewed by Article18 have gone so far as to say that the news of their exclusion from the US sponsorship scheme was a more traumatic low even than their time of imprisonment in Iran,” said Article18’s director, Mansour Borji.

“So while we welcome the re-designation of Iran, rightly, as a Country of Particular Concern, because of its FoRB violations, we urge the US government, as recommended in our recently published report, to expedite the resettlement of these refugees, who are are at risk of deportation and some of whom face prison sentences in Iran on account of their religious activities.”

Iran was one of just 12 countries to receive the CPC designation last week, alongside Myanmar, China, Cuba, North Korea, Eritrea, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, Saudia Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Five other countries – Algeria, Azerbaijan, the Central African Republic, Comoros and Vietnam – were designated as “Special Watch List” countries for “engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom”.

“Significant violations of religious freedom also occur in countries that are not designated,” said Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. “Governments must end abuses such as attacks on members of religious minority communities and their places of worship, communal violence and lengthy imprisonment for peaceful expression, transnational repression, and calls to violence against religious communities, among other violations that occur in too many places around the world.”

“The challenges to religious freedom across the globe are structural, systemic, and deeply entrenched,” he added. “But with thoughtful, sustained commitment from those who are unwilling to accept hatred, intolerance, and persecution as the status quo we will one day see a world where all people live with dignity and equality.”