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Iranian Christian Asylum Seekers Remain Stuck in Limbo

Sarah Parvini reports on the plight of the Iranian asylum seekers, who remain stranded in Vienna:

Even as it cracked down on immigration from predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa, the Trump administration stressed that the safety of Christians in the region would be a priority.

In recent months, however, dozens of religious minorities from Iran have seen their asylum claims denied despite a decades-old program designed to help them. Many have been left stranded in Austria, unable to go home and unsure whether they’ll ever make it to the U.S.

The administration in February rejected the cases of 87 Iranian refugees — an unprecedented move for a program with a near 100% acceptance rate, attorneys said. The government did not provide a reason for the denials, saying it was “a matter of discretion.”

Some of the refugees, who had traveled to Vienna as part of the asylum process, and family members in the United States filed a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. In July, a judge ordered the government to reconsider those cases and said it must disclose individual reasons for the denials, which would allow the applicants to file an appeal. The government estimates it will make final decisions in the reopened cases this month.

The administration’s mistreatment of these asylumseekers proves that it isn’t interested in helping persecuted religious minorities or Iranians. There has never been any good reason to turn these people away, and it was extremely unfair to turn down their requests after they had already made the journey to Austria because they trusted that the U.S. would honor its commitment to accept them. They are trapped between the country they have fled and the one that promised them refuge and then pulled the rug out from under them:

Matt Saria, one of a handful of USC law students who helped the International Refugee Assistance Project with research during the lawsuit, said the Iranians he spoke with in Austria had let their guard down and assumed they would make it to America.

“Then they face a whole other nightmare in Vienna and they don’t know what to do, because they’re separated … but can’t go back because they’ve been outed as refugees,” Saria said.

It is good that the government will have to reconsider some of the cases that it rejected, but it should not have taken a court order to force them to do what they should have done on their own. It is inexcusable that scores of people fleeing persecution have been held in Kafkaesque limbo for more than a year. The administration should correct this injustice and grant asylum to these Iranians fleeing religious persecution.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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