Asylum Seekers Facing Religious and other Persecution Impacted by Impediments to Protection, in Europe and the United States

A piece in Sunday’s New York Times, “A Christian, Convert on the Run in Afghanistan,” tells the story of an Afghan Christian convert who sought protection from religious persecution in Europe only to face some of the all-too-common barriers to asylum. In this case: detention (in Greece), technical filing requirements and bars, and the struggle to survive while awaiting resolution of the case.

Such challenges are not limited to Europe. Those who seek asylum from religious or other forms of persecution in the United States also struggle to overcome hurdles that can block their path to protection: summary processing, technical filing requirements, overly broad bars to asylum, and detention in jails and other facilities with conditions similar to those inside jails. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has documented some of these challenges in it its comprehensive 2005 report on expedited removal and its 2013 report on immigration detention.  USCIRF recommends that asylum seekers not be detained in jails or facilities with similar conditions and that asylum safeguards in expedited removal be effectively implemented.&nb

Human Rights First has documented how victims of persecution have been negatively impacted by U.S. immigration policies – including detention in jails and similar facilities, overly broad bars to asylum, and the filing deadline requirement that bars refugees who file late even though they are determined to have well-founded fears of persecution. In an op-ed, Dr. Richard Land, then-president of The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino described how a victim of religious persecution from Turkmenistan was denied asylum in the United States due to the filing deadline,  emphasizing that “when people escape horror and come to the United States in desperate need of freedom and safety, we shouldn’t turn them away because of a bureaucratic technicality. Yet we do. And every time we do, we betray our ideals.”

There is much that can be done to make sure that those seeking this country’s protection from persecution are not improperly turned away. Human Rights First issued a comprehensive set of recommendations to the Obama Administration, and recommended safeguards for asylum seekers who are among those seeking protection at the southern border. The recommendations advanced by USCIRF for asylum seekers should also be implemented.

The United States has a strong interest in maintaining its global leadership on protecting the persecuted. Over thirty three years ago, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Refugee Act of 1980, which passed Congress with strong bi-partisan support, enshrining into domestic law America’s historic commitment to protect the persecuted. As the Council on Foreign Relations Independent Task Force on Immigration Policy, co-chaired by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former Clinton White House chief of staff Thomas “Mack” McLarty, pointed out—and a group of leading Republicans recently affirmed—the U.S. commitment to protect refugees from persecution is “enshrined in international treaties and domestic U.S. laws that set the standard for the rest of the world; when American standards erode, refugees face greater risks everywhere.”

The United States should stand firm as a beacon of hope for those fleeing persecution.



  • Eleanor Acer

Published on June 24, 2014


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