BALTIMORE, Md. – Today, World Relief, HIAS, The Episcopal Church, the National Association of Evangelicals and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS) cosponsored an official congressional briefing as a side event to the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. These organizations, plus panelists including representatives from the Free Yezidi Foundation, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and a Liberian refugee and pastor, called U.S. leadership to increase the number of refugees accepted in the U.S. as well as to continue robust refugee funding. While expressing gratitude to Secretary of State Pompeo for his commitment to pursue an international religious freedom agenda, the groups urged that having a robust refugee resettlement program can bolster the success of that mission.
Pari Ibrahim, Founder and Executive Director, Free Yezidi Foundation, commented: “I believe there’s a genuine sympathy and concern for the Yezidi people today, but I cannot believe that a country like the U.S. can do so little for people in these conditions. ISIS remains a critical threat to Yezidis, and their lack of security and fair representation keeps them from feeling safe and being productive. For those who are severely traumatized, their best chance for a better life is to seek an outside country, yet only 14 Yezidis were resettled to the U.S. in 2019 and five in 2018. We seek an increase in resettlement of Yezidis in America.”
Melanie Nezer, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs with HIAS, commented: “The Lautenberg Amendment was enacted and authorized by Congress in 1990 to allow Jews and evangelicals to come to the U.S. as refugees from the former Soviet Union. The Lautenberg Amendment was expanded in 2004 to include Iran, but in the past two years that program has basically been shut down. There are no religious minorities from Iran that are coming into this country, despite the fact that there are thousands of religious minorities who would like to get out. Though small, this program leaves the door open for people fleeing persecution and has a direct connection to people’s ability to practice their faith openly. This is just one way that the almost-complete shutdown of refugee resettlement program has a direct impact on religious minorities.”
Galen Carey, Vice President of Governmental Relations, National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), commented: “I want to commend the State Department for holding the second ministerial for international religious freedom around the world and Ambassador Brownback for bringing his commitment, passion and stature to the State Department and for promoting religious freedom around the world. Our country has been blessed by the contributions of refugees for decades, and a strong bipartisan consensus agrees that protecting and resettling refugees is in the nation’s interest and is the right thing to do. Our refugee resettlement program has long been the crown jewel of humanitarianism. Our government does its part by rigorously vetting and selecting the refugees most in need of resettlement. Volunteers from churches and communities open their hearts and homes to welcome the refugees and help them get back on their feet. But the sharp cutback in all refugee resettlement to the U.S. is systematically dismantling the whole infrastructure that allows us to resettle refugees so effectively. Our ability to respond to future refugee crises has been hampered. Remember that refugees are human beings. Every human bears the image of God, and every person is an asset. Refugees in particular are people who have demonstrated the courage of their convictions, and who are willing to take risks for freedom. They are exactly the type of people we want to come to the United States.”
Jenny Yang, VP of Advocacy and Policy with World Relief, commented: “We believe the refugee resettlement program has been dismantled and needs to be restored through Congressional leadership. One woman we’ve resettled through World Relief fled Pakistan and believed her husband had been killed – he was targeted and left for dead for publishing Christian content. He’s now hiding in Sri Lanka, and we’ve been advocating for him for two years. To be resettled to the U.S. would mean he can be with his family and have the freedom to practice his faith openly. There are hundreds of stories like this one of people who have no ability to return home. Resettlement is the only real solution for these individuals. As we discuss implementing a robust religious freedom agenda abroad, we need to also talk about what it would mean to accept those fleeing religious persecution in the U.S.
“I urge you to join the Bipartisan Refugee Caucus that will keep the administration accountable to refugees, co-sponsor to pass the Grace Act which will restore the refugee ceiling to 95,00 every year and support MRA and funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement that helps those after they’ve been resettled or trafficked.”
Matthew Wilch, Refugee Policy Advisor, United State Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS), commented: “We need to be responsive to religious persecution and the forced immigration it causes, and we need durable solutions for refugees fleeing persecution. We must take a comprehensive approach to refugee protection by investing in root causes, and this means fighting for religious liberty – not just in the U.S., but in other countries as well. We must support refugees in host countries. And for that small percentage of refugees not safe in either their home or host countries, we need to provide resettlement.”
Elizabeth K. Cassidy, Director of International Law and Policy, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), commented, “Until recently, the U.S. had one of the largest refugee resettlement programs of any country. USCIRF has been a strong proponent for many years of a robust resettlement program, which has always had strong bipartisan support. We feel the ceiling should take into account the scope of religious persecution around the world. A recent UNHCR report showed six of the ten top refugee producing countries are of concern to USCIRF, and three have been designated by the State Department as among the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.”
Joseph Lewis, refugee, commented: “I am a husband, a parent, and a police officer in D.C. I’m also a student pastor – and a former refugee. In Liberia, my family was targeted weekly and daily because our last name was the same as a hated political leader. We fled the country on a freight train and arrived in the Ivory Coast in 1990. We lived there from 1990-1998 before we finally got an opportunity to sit for an interview. During that time, my life was not very hopeful. The whole time we could see those same people who tormented us just across the border. My friends and I swore that if we had the opportunity to get out, we would never miss that chance.
“On January 24, 1999, I finally arrived in New York City. In the transition process, I endured a time of homelessness. After encountering a Lutheran pastor, I eventually went back to school and got my life back on track. I have been given an opportunity, and I want to return the favor.
“This is why I became a police officer. And this is why I went to seminary, and why I want stories like mine to be told.”
About World Relief:
World Relief is a global Christian humanitarian organization that seeks to overcome violence, poverty and injustice. Through love in action, we bring hope, healing and restoration to millions of the world’s most vulnerable women, men and children through vital and sustainable programs in disaster response, health and child development, economic development and peacebuilding, as well as refugee and immigration services in the U.S. For 75 years, we’ve partnered with churches and communities, currently across more than 20 countries, to provide relief from suffering and help people rebuild their lives.
Learn more at worldrelief.org.