Though the Trump administration has pledged to help Christian and other religious minorities in the Middle East who might face persecution, the United States has denied about 100 applications for refugee status in recent weeks, The New York Times reported.
"It's unexplainable," H. Avakian, an ethnic Armenian Christian who arrived in Austria from Iran 15 months ago told the Times. "Suddenly they said, 'Now you can't come.' We don't know why."
Avakian, who hoped to join his brother in Los Angeles, told the Times he and about 100 other refugees awaiting visa processing in Austria are running out of money — and hope.
"Most of us cannot go back to Iran; we're in complete despair," he told the Times.
"We are afraid they will give us a sentence," he said of returning to Iran. "They could put us in jail."
The Iranians applied to resettle in the United States under guidelines set by a 1989 law known as the Lautenberg Amendment, which offers safe haven to persecuted religious minorities, the Times reported.
According to the Times, about 30,000 Iranians have settled in the United States since 2003 thanks to the Lautenberg program. In the fiscal year that ended in September, 1,275 Iranians were admitted, compared with 2,323 the previous year.
Refugee resettlement officials told the Times evangelical Christians, who make up more than 90 percent of the Lautenberg pool and come mostly from Ukraine, continue to arrive as usual.
In late January, Reps. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., and James McGovern, D-Mass., chairmen of the House human rights commission, urged Vice President Mike Pence to expedite approvals for the Iranians.
After the denials, they called on the Department of Homeland Security to provide an explanation.
"These Iranians are members of religious minorities fleeing a regime that has brutally oppressed their communities since 1979," they said in a statement. "This being the case, they should be presumed eligible for admittance to the United States as refugees under the Lautenberg Amendment."
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