Why are Christians and other religious minorities not being prioritised in Afghan resettlement programme, asks peer

(Photo: Unsplash/Greg Rosenke)

Crossbench peer Lord Alton is urging the UK government to ensure that Christians and other religious minorities are among the groups being given priority in the resettlement of Afghan refugees.

He echoed calls from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which has asked that religious miniorities be prioritised because they are at "extreme risk of persecution by the Taliban." 

USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza said, "The Taliban's imposition of their harsh and strict interpretation of Sunni Islam in the areas that they have taken over poses a grave threat to all Afghans of differing interpretations and other faiths or beliefs. The outlook for the country's religious minorities is particularly bleak, with threats of Taliban persecution mounting. 

"As Afghans are forced to flee their homes on account of their beliefs, the US government must ensure that the most vulnerable among them have a pathway to seek refuge in the United States."

Lord Alton, a committed Christian and life peer in the House of Lords, welcomed her comments as he called on the EU and UK to do the same.

"The US Commission on International Religious Freedom was right to call for the prioritisation of Afghan religious minorities within the refugee resettlement programme. Why haven't the US, UK and EU done this?" he said. 

The UK said earlier this month that priority would be given to women and girls, and religious minorities, including Christians.

But speaking to BBC Radio 4 on Sunday, Lord Alton questioned whether this was the case in practice after religious minorities were missing from information provided to parliamentarians last week.

"The sentiment of the government statement is one with which I agree but the problem is that the actual terms of prioritisation do not include religious minorities," he said.

"In fact, they have three categories of women at risk, human rights defenders and LGBT, all of which should be in the list of priorities but why not religious minorities?"

Lord Alton said he had raised the matter with the Defence Secretary as he repeated calls for priority to be given to Christians and religious minorities.

"The UK, the US, the EU all need to do the same as a matter of urgency. These minorities have been targeted in the past by the Taliban and they will be targeted again," he said. 

Also speaking on BBC Radio 4 was Kelsey Zorzi, a human rights lawyer with the Alliance Defending Freedom International. 

She said that the Christian community and other religious minorities had experienced "brutality" under the previous Taliban regime and that ADF had received reports of Christians there being "targeted" once again. 

After some growth over the last 20 years, she said Afghanistan's Christian community was effectively "back to square one". 

"We have heard reports of Christians being hunted down," she said.