By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
VIENNA/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)-- Some 100 mostly Christian Iranians stranded in Austria face imminent deportation back to Iran where they could face detention, torture, and even death after the United States rejected their asylum applications, rights activists told BosNewsLife Thursday, March 1.
The Christians expected entry to the U.S. under decades-old legislation and a humanitarian program that allows members of persecuted Iranian minorities to enter the United States through a processing center in Vienna.
But U.S. President Donald Trump is reluctant to allow migrants and refugees from Iran to enter the country, BosNewsLife learned.
The State Department revoked their permission, though the U.S. government reportedly encouraged them to come to Vienna more than a year ago. Christians spent their funds, including life-savings, for the trip, according to rights activists familiar with the case.
Many in the group are living in Austrian shelters after running out of money for other accommodations during their yearlong layover in the Alpine country, aid workers said.
DEPORTATION WITHIN WEEK?
"The Christian refugees, many of whom can recount stories of the discrimination and persecution they have experienced at the hands of Iranian authorities, now have less than a week to leave Austria," confirmed advocacy group Barnabas Fund in a statement to BosNewsLife. "The decision by the Trump administration to reject the applicants – and to seemingly shut down the entire programme – is a betrayal of Iranian Christian refugees," and "an insult" to the "Christian and humanitarian heritage" of the United States, the group added.
Several Democrat and Republican Congressmen have written to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, a Christian, to intervene “on behalf of a small group of suffering Middle Eastern religious minorities seeking refuge from Iran’s repressive regime”.
While mostly Christian, the group of 100 in limbo in Vienna reportedly also includes members of the Baha'i faith, who have complained of arrest, torture, beatings, and other forms of severe punishment in Iran for decades.
Rights activists fear the group faces prison in Iran as punishment for attempts to seek asylum in the United States. Former Muslims embracing Christianity could also be executed on charges of "apostasy," the word used for abandoning Islam, in the strict Islamic nation.
There was no indication late Thursday, March 1, that Austria would grant the Christian Iranians asylum as the European Union member state experiences political upheaval. The Austrian People's Party recently formed a ruling coalition with the anti-migration and far-right Freedom Party, making Austria the only country in western Europe with a far-right presence in government.
At age 31, Sebastian Kurz became the world's youngest head of government when he was sworn in as federal chancellor in December last year.