(RNS) — Fewer Christians fleeing persecution in their native countries have found a safe harbor in the United States in the past half decade, according to a new report from a pair of Christian nonprofits, which cites the effects of the pandemic and the dismantling of U.S. refugee resettlement programs during the Trump administration.
The report, titled “Closed Doors,” found the number of Christians coming to the U.S. from countries named on a prominent persecution watchlist dropped from 32,248 in 2016 to 9,528 in 2022 — a decline of 70%.
The number of Christian refugees from Myanmar dropped from 7,634 in 2016 to 587 in 2022, while the number of Christian refugees from Iran dropped from 2,086 in 2016 to 112 in 2022. Christian refugees from Eritrea dropped from 1,639 in 2016 to 252 in 2022, while refugees from Iraq dropped from 1,524 to 93 during the same timeframe.
All four countries are among the 50 nations on the annual World Watch List published by Open Doors, an international Christian charity that tracks persecution. The new report was written by Open Doors and World Relief, an evangelical charity that resettles refugees.
“The tragic reality is that many areas of the world simply aren’t safe for Christians, and Christians fleeing persecution need a safe haven in the United States,” according to the report.
The decline in Christian refugees comes at a time when the persecution against Christians is on the rise, said Ryan Brown, CEO of Open Doors.
According to the Watch List released earlier this year, some 360 million Christians face what Open Doors calls “high levels of discrimination and persecution.” That’s up from 260 million reported in a 2020 edition of the “Closed Doors” report. Much of the increase has come in sub-Saharan Africa, he said, driven by political instability and internal conflict in countries like Nigeria.
“Tragically, that’s the area where we are seeing the most intense violence as it relates to persecution,” said Brown.
According to Brown, many Christians in countries where there is persecution want to stay there, often feeling called to minister in difficult situations. But some are forced to flee.
In 2016, according to the “Closed Doors” report, 32,248 refugees from countries on Open Doors’ World Watch were resettled in the United States. That number dropped to 11,528 in 2018 and then to 5,390 in 2020.
While persecution is on the rise, both the annual refugee ceiling set by the U.S. president each fall and the total number of refugees resettled yearly in the U.S. have dropped. In 2016, according to the “Closed Doors” report, about 97,000 refugees were resettled. That number declined to just under 23,000 in 2018. Canada, despite having a much smaller population, managed to resettle about 28,000 refugees that year.
“In the calendar year 2020, the U.S. resettled fewer than 10,000 refugees for the first time in the resettlement program’s history,” according to the report.