Congress is planning to end an expense-free humanitarian program that grants heavily persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in Iran a safe avenue to apply for refugee status.
According to International Christian Concern, Congress may end the “Lautenberg Amendment,” which has received bipartisan support for more than 20 years. It fears that without the program many persecuted Iranian Christians unable to flee their country will face imprisonment or execution.
Earlier this year, Andrew Johnston, advocacy director of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and Mansour Borji, pastor of the Iranian Church in London, told the European Parliament’s Iran Delegation the situation was “dire” for the Evangelical Church in Iran.
Pastor Borji gave an account of the “appalling” conditions in which Christians were being held because of their faith by the Iranian authorities.
More than 250 Christians are known to have been arrested and detained across Iran since June 2010.
The Lautenberg Amendment has rescued persecuted Christians, Baha’is and Jews from Iran since 2003 by establishing a clear standard for processing refugee applications submitted by religious minorities.
A report by the ICC explains: “Because the U.S. does not have an embassy in Tehran, the program allows the Austrian Embassy to issue special visas that allow persecuted minorities into Austria in order to be interviewed at the U.S. Embassy in Vienna.
“The program does not require the expenditure of funds, nor does it increase the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. The program simply offers Iranian applicants who are members of a persecuted religious group the same opportunity to be granted refugee status in the U.S. that is given to applicants in other countries throughout the world.”
If plans to end the program are passed it would mean 688 persecuted Iranian minorities who have already begun the refugee application process will be trapped in Iran.
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “In early April, ICC requested that Christians call Rep. Lamar Smith’s office to express their concerns. While the program was successfully extended until June, it is once again under review.”
Clay added: “Without the program’s quick renewal, Austria may stop issuing visas and force Iranian Christians to pursue more dangerous options to avoid imprisonment and possible execution.
“We urge the U.S. Congress to save countless lives by permanently renewing the Lautenberg Amendment to assure religious minorities in Iran that their applications will be reviewed and processed.”