ERLC, others urge U.S. to help Afghan religious minorities

WASHINGTON (BP) – The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and other members of a diverse coalition have urged President Biden to establish a special refugee category for members of religious minorities in Afghanistan who are threatened by the Taliban and other terrorist groups.

The ERLC and more than 30 other organizations signed onto an Oct. 12 letter to Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken that called for the administration to create a new Priority 2 (P-2) refugee status category for Afghan religious minorities. Short of that action, the letter from the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Roundtable – which was also endorsed by nearly 40 individuals – encouraged the White House and State Department to endorse attempts in Congress to expand the P-2 category.

Including Afghan religious minorities in the P-2 category would enable members of such groups that the American government has identified as “of special humanitarian concern” to apply to the United States Refugee Admissions Program without first receiving a referral from a U.S. embassy, non-governmental organization or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the coalition explained in the letter. This would speed up the process for these refugees, though they would still go through the American government’s thorough vetting procedures, according to the letter.

“Many Afghans are at risk of oppression under the Taliban rule with religious minorities being especially vulnerable to persecution,” said Chelsea Sobolik, the ERLC’s director of public policy. “A number of these people fear imminent death or are forced into hiding due to fear of what the Taliban might do to them.

“Our government should immediately offer Priority-2 refugee status for religious minorities fleeing this kind of violence and oppression from Afghanistan,” she said in written comments.

Brent Leatherwood, the ERLC’s acting president, also signed onto the letter.

Members of the IRF Roundtable have received reports of the torture and murder of Christians, Shia Muslims and other religious minorities, they said in the letter. The Taliban, which consists of militant Sunni Muslims, and other terrorist groups are going door to door, and adherents of religious minorities are being raped, trafficked into sexual slavery or executed, according to the letter.

“In short, for many religious minorities their status as believers in a faith not approved by the Taliban is a death sentence,” the coalition said in the letter. “[This] demands immediate steps that can save the lives of religious minorities in Afghanistan who face imminent harm.”

The coalition recommended the State Department initially include at least 4,000 applicants in an expanded P-2 category. This total would consist of 1,500 Christians, 1,500 Shia Muslims, 500 Ahmadi Muslims, 250 Sikhs and 250 Hindus, according to the recommendation.

In its support for expanded P-2 status, the coalition cited previous congressional actions in 1989, 2004 and 2007 to help religious minorities in the Soviet Union, Iran and Iraq, respectively.

Religious minorities were not among those included in the P-2 category established by the State Department in early August for some Afghans.

The Afghan capital of Kabul fell to the Taliban Aug. 15, completing a rapid conquest of the Central Asian country by the extremist terrorist group. The takeover occurred as the United States neared a complete withdrawal of troops after nearly 20 years in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The ERLC and other members of the Evangelical Immigration Table asked Biden in mid-August to extend P-2 status to religious minorities and others at risk of persecution by the Taliban.

Organizations signing onto the Oct. 12 letter included China Aid, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, International Human Rights Committee, Jubilee Campaign (USA), Religious Freedom Institute, 21Wilberforce and Union for Reform Judaism.

Among the individuals endorsing the letter were Sam Brownback, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom; Lauren Homer, president, Law and Liberty Trust International; Faith McDonnell, director of advocacy, Katartismos Global; Sarah Makin, former senior advisor on international religious freedom, National Security Council; Greg Mitchell, chair, IRF Roundtable; and Nina Shea, director, Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.

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