A group of Iranian Christian refugees have been given two weeks to leave Austria after the US government denied their asylum applications in a move that appears to signal the shutting down of a humanitarian programme created to help religious minorities escape persecution. They now face potential deportation back to Iran.
Around 100 mainly Christian Iranian refugees have been stranded in Vienna for more than a year. They had expected to be allowed to enter the US under the Lautenberg humanitarian programme, which was instigated in 1990 to enable Jews and Christians from the Former Soviet Union to emigrate.
However, the US government now appears to be quietly closing down the programme, despite the fact many of the refugees have relatives in the US and had already been interviewed by the Department for Homeland Security. In one case, family members in the US had been told their relative would receive a US visa in early 2017, but he has now been rejected.
Between 76 – 80 of the Iranian applicants received formal notices of the denial of their requests for asylum on 19 February. Several others remain “under investigation”.
The Iranian refugees are understood to be predominantly Assyrian and Armenian Christians. While the Iranian government do permit believers from these historic Christian minorities to meet openly for worship in Iran (unlike Farsi-speaking congregations, who are typically converts from Islam) they still face discrimination and harassment.