Iranian Christian Refugees Are Still Stranded in Austria, But Are Things About to Change?

Around 100 Iranian refugees who were invited to resettle in the United States and then denied entry after a year of waiting in Vienna have two reasons to hope.

After being rejected from America, the migrants have applied for asylum in Austria and four have already been approved. This latest development occurred after many had already exhausted their savings and been divided from their families—the denials separated two women from their fiancés and cut parents off from their children.

Earlier this year, Austrian member of parliament Gudrun Kugler learned of the refugees’ plight and invited the group to meet with her.

“With tears in their eyes, these people were telling me how much they wanted to start to work and live meaningful lives,” Kugler said. “One young woman told me that she had not been to a school in two years. She could not sleep, and she was self-medicating. This uncertainty was very difficult for them.”

Kugler, who believes helping the community is part of following her call as a Christian, reached out to a number of NGOs to help the migrants find health insurance, enroll in German classes, and take advantage of job training options.

One of her partner organizations, the Nazarene Fund, offered rent support and aid for medical and psychological care and legal services. In addition, it reached out to the US government to learn why the group had been denied entry after their initial acceptance. Since then, the US State Department has asked that the group to resubmit their requests for asylum.

Another reason for hope: Earlier this month, a US district court judge for the Northern District of California sided with the refugees, challenging the US government’s blanket denial that left them marooned in Europe—afraid to return to the country they fled and unable to proceed to the country that had offered them refuge.

In the refugees’ case, Doe v. Nielsen, Judge Beth Labson Freeman ordered the government to review its mass rejection of the Iranian religious minorities—most of whom are Christians. The refugees may now file appeals and, if the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) still elects to refuse them entry, it must provide reasons for each individual separately.

“DHS retains an enormous amount of authority and discretion to adjudicate refugee applications,” the judge wrote in her decision, “but they do not have the discretion to violate the law.”

The law that initially granted passage from Iran to America is the Lautenberg Amendment, a decades-old policy facilitating the resettlement of persecuted religious minorities, especially Jews and Christians from the former Soviet Union. In 2004, the addition of the Specter Amendment added Iranian religious minorities to those eligible under the program.

“The US government had abandoned our Iranian refugee clients in a terrible, Kafkaesque situation,” said Mariko Hirose, litigation director for the International Refugee Assistance Project, which represented the plaintiffs alongside Latham & Watkins. “They had left their homes in Iran, sold their belongings, and traveled to Vienna with every expectation that they would soon be united with their family members in the US, only to be told that their admission was denied ‘as a matter of discretion.’”

The details of the “matter of discretion” behind the bulk denial were not elaborated, even though the government is obliged under the Lautenberg Amendment to explain denials “to the maximum extent feasible.”

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Source: Christianity Today