State Department Eases Rules on Asylum for Iranian Jews, Christians

State Senate Democratic leader Manfred Ohrenstein today lauded an announced change of policy by the State Department regarding asylum for Iranian Jews and Christians.

The State Department Bureau of Human Rights has decided that the situation in Iran has deteriorated for Christian and Jewish minorities and, therefore, if people seeking asylum can prove they are Iranian Jews or Christians the State Department will now accept this as proof that they would be persecuted upon their return to Iran, according to a Department spokesperson.

The spokesperson said “roughly 2,500 Christians and 2,000 Jews from Iran have filed asylum claims” since the Khomeini regime was established. “We will continue to monitor the situation in Iran closely and our review of individual applications from all Iranians seeking asylum will of course, reflect our conclusions as to conditions there.”

PREVIOUS STANDARDS WERE HARD TO MEET

Ohrenstein last month wrote to Elliott Abrams, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, urging the State Department to reverse its policy of denying requests for asylum. Before the Department’s announced policy change, the Manhattan Senator said, “requests for asylum by Iranian Christians and Jews seemed to receive automatic denials, unless there was specific proof of persecution (in addition to minority status). The INS then sent letters to such applicants advising they must establish that their fear of persecution was well-founded.”

The INS letters, Ohrenstein said, “placed the ‘burden of proof’ on the petitioners and demanded material evidence, as well as the respondents’ testimony.” The Senator said he was now “relieved to learn that Iranian Christians and Jews will no longer be subjected to standards that were often impossible to meet, in order to receive asylum here” in view of the fact that the State Department “has agreed that these two minority groups are the objects of persecution under the Khomeini regime.”

Application for asylum are routinely submitted through the INS, then sent to the State Department for advisory opinions. Based on these opinions, the INS decides on individual cases. The State Department has informed the INS of its change in policy and a review of applications will continue on a case by case basis by both agencies, Ohrenstein reported.

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