Thousands of Iraqi Christians, unable to safely worship in their home country, are looking to the United States as a safe haven. The immigration status of these refugees, however, remain uncertain due to new and extensive security measures.
Following the arrest of two Iraqis in May for allegedly aiding members of al-Qaida in Iraq, “hundreds of Iraqis” were denied entry into America, said Jenny Yang, advocacy director of Christian aid group World Relief, according to Christian publication Worthy News.
"Enhanced background checks have plugged the refugee pipeline, preventing Iraqi Christians and others from obtaining clearance to come to the U.S. as authorities seek to uncover potential terrorists among them.”
According to the World Relief estimates, half of all Iraqi refugees were denied entry due to missing documentation.
For Iraqi Christian refugees, this is critical as they cannot return to their home country for fear of persecution.
"Now they (Iraqi Christians) are stuck in neighboring countries where they cannot work, cannot go to school and cannot worship freely. The only hope they have is to come to America and now that hope is in ruins," Rafat Ita, a social worker in Detroit where 160,000 Iraqi Christians reside, told Worthy News.
Violence against Christians in Iraq has been on the rise, culminating with an attack in May when it was reported that the body of a 29-year-old Christian was found with markings of torture and mutilation on his body.
In the Fiscal Year 2011, the U.S. Department of State reports that 9,388 Iraqi refugees were admitted into the country. The refugees admitted are considered the most vulnerable “for whole return to Iraq is not a viable option.” One of the factors that make a refugee “the most vulnerable” is a religious minority membership. The U.S. government says that it “takes claims of persecution based on religion very seriously during the adjudication process.”
According to BosNewsLife, a publication dedicated to the persecuted minority, U.S. authorities said earlier this year that they “were rescreening over 58,000 Iraqi refugees already living in the U.S. amid concerns that lapses in immigration security may have allowed former insurgents and potential terrorists to enter the country.”
Iraqi Christians are finding it difficult not only to come to America, but Europe as well. In Austria, according to Worthy News, hundreds of refugees are displaced since the U.S. ended a program in that country which protected religious minorities. Since its beginning in 1989, the program had given “asylum to 440,000 Christians, as well as persecuted Christians and Jews from the former Soviet Union.”