Broken Promises. Shattered Lives
Iranian Christian Refugees Remain In Limbo as U.S. Government Vacillates
“Not knowing what the future holds is the worst part.”
For a group of 108 Iranian refugees stranded in Austria, living in a constant state of unknowing has become the norm. The group known collectively as the ”Lautenberg Christians” is actually made up of Christians, Mandaeans and Zoroastrians – all persecuted religious minorities from Iran – seeking asylum in the United States. After being approved to immigrate to the U.S., they were suddenly — and without explanation — denied entry.
Who are the Lautenberg Christians?
All of the refugees are fleeing severe persecution in Iran. Here are some of their stories:
- A 15-year old Mandaean girl was sexually assaulted by an imam and his wife as punishment for not converting to Islam. She was 11 at the time of the attack.
- A 30-year-old Christian woman working as an aesthetician was fired from her job when her religion was discovered. Her coworkers claimed she was “unclean” and could not touch Muslim faces. Later police broke her nose for not wearing her hijab properly and threatened to rape her.
- An 84-year old Mandaean refugee woman was attacked by a mob — beaten and robbed — and then struck by a car. She suffers from a broken arm that never healed correctly.
- A young Christian convert fled Iran, traveling 2,500 miles on foot to Vienna to reunite with his refugee wife and her family. During his journey, he was robbed and jailed, yet still found the fortitude to rescue two abandoned Afghan children from a snowy mountaintop.
These asylum seekers are part of a 30-year old U.S. State Department program that helps persecuted religious minorities — almost 30,000 to date — flee Iran for the United States. The refugees in this program submit to a rigorous application and security screening prior to traveling, and all are sponsored by family members living in the U.S. The Lautenberg Christians followed protocol to a T, selling their possessions to pay for their own transport, rent, and living expenses. The program required a three-month stay in Austria, which is where the process began to fall apart. Three months turned into six months, which turned into one year and then two. The Lautenberg Christians were essentially stranded in Austria, unable to work, to receive medical care, or to send their children to school.
When the official denial letters came last February, the refugees were shocked, especially those whose family members had successfully travelled to the U.S. just days before. Some of the refugees were turned away at the airport. Some were threatened with deportation to Iran, where they would certainly be imprisoned, or worse.
Two weeks ago, following a lawsuit filed on behalf of the refugees in U.S. Federal Court, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — the agency responsible for the refugees’ security screenings — sent each asylum seeker an invitation to resubmit their applications. However, the following week, the refugees received letters from the U.S. State Department requesting permission to turn their records over to third-party countries that might take them in. The refugees are wary of these seemingly conflicting requests by a government who they feel betrayed them, ruining them financially and emotionally.
What The Nazarene Fund is Doing to Help
The Nazarene Fund is doing all we can to help. We’ve established field operations in Vienna and have been working with a partner NGO, to collect demographic and biographic information on each refugee. This information will then be used for Austrian asylum application, as well as U.S. asylum re-applications.In addition, we are also providing funding to meet the Lautenberg Christians’ urgent medical needs and legal services, as well as providing rent support to families facing eviction.
Through it all, the fog of uncertainty and fear hangs heavy over the group of refugees. Will the U.S. government ever grant them asylum? Will they be allowed to stay in Austria and rebuild their shattered lives? Or, will they be forced to return to Iran and face the people who forced them out?
We are dedicated to helping these people, but we can only do so with your help. Learn how you can support The Nazarene Fund by visiting www.thenazarenefund.org