Uyghurs are being persecuted in China — US must protect them

Uyghurs are being persecuted in China — US must protect them
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While D.C. remains bitterly divided over a range of policy areas, protections of religious liberties continue to garner support from both sides of the aisle. Despite deteriorating trade talks with China, it’s essential that Congress continues to exercise their power to protect religious minorities, such as the Uyghurs, from religious persecution. It is a prerogative that America continues to stand up for religious freedoms across the world, regardless of politics —it’s one of the pillars that has made this country a beacon of liberty for the persecuted and a global leader on human rights.  

In the last two years, the Chinese government has destroyed churches, re-written Bibles, imprisoned pastors, and severely restricted religious practices. In China’s western region of Xinjiang, millions of Uyghurs (a Muslim ethnic minority group) have been sent to internment camps where they are prevented from engaging in religious practices and are forced to devote themselves to the communist party. Extreme forms of police surveillance, including cameras and mobile apps used to spy on families in their homes and houses of worship, are becoming common practice.

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It is estimated that China has now detained over 1 million Uyghurs and subjected an additional 2 million to re-education and indoctrination programs. However, according to the Department of State data, there has not been a refugee that speaks the Uyghur language admitted into the United States since 2013, and only 28 since the year 2008.

The United States has taken steps to condemn China for religious persecution while simultaneously neglecting the greatest tool that the country has to assist this vulnerable population. Refugee resettlement provides a new home and opportunities to families all over the world. It allows people of all backgrounds to express their religious beliefs freely in place where they will not be persecuted. It is time that Congress recognizes how crucial the US Refugee Admissions Program is and uses it to address those facing persecution in China.  

The U.S. Department of State has designated China as a country of particular concern every year since 1999.2 In light of this, Secretary Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoIs America headed toward war? Is America headed toward war? Polar bear spotted hundreds of miles south of normal hunting grounds MORE presented the Potomac Declaration at the first ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in 2018. This declaration condemns religious persecution worldwide and has a Plan of Action that offers steps to support religious freedom on a global scale. Critics of the Ministerial said that the plan of action and the declaration as a whole did not include specific references to China or any other country accused of persecution based on religious belief, but rather spoke vaguely of the Administration’s commitment to religious liberty.  

Additionally, members of Congress have introduced a resolution and bills in both the House and the Senate (H.R. 7384 and S. 178) to address the persecution of Uyghurs in China. These pieces of legislation would encourage the Department of State to be more involved in providing assistance to the Uyghur region of China, increasing the documentation of human rights violations, and calling out American corporations that have been complicit in such abuses.  

Although Congress and the Department of State have taken these steps to speak out against religious persecution in China, little concrete action has been taken to address the situation or to offer immediate support to those that are suffering. Refugee Resettlement has long since been a tool to assist those that are facing persecution in their home country. It has helped provide a second chance to millions of families worldwide that were fleeing for their lives. It is important that those that speak out against religious persecution in China also advocate for increased refugee admissions goals and robust funding for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.  

It is not enough to condemn and document these injustices. Congress and the Department of State must take steps to prevent the continuation of such human rights violations. As an organization that has been active in resettling refugees for the last 80 years, LIRS urges Congress and the Department of State to truly show support for these populations and offer them a new home free from religious intolerance. 

Krish O’Mara  Vignarajah  serves as president and CEO of LIRS (Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service).