The Uyghur people and Hong Kong political dissenters face daily persecution at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Human rights advocates and Western governments have rightly criticized the Chinese government for targeting the predominantly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group for illegitimate detention and abusive “pacification” under the guise of national security. In Hong Kong, authorities have arrested dozens of pro-democracy leaders and restricted freedoms of speech and the press. While circumstances are constantly changing, one thing is certain: the United States should swiftly offer refuge to those fleeing persecution.
For decades, Southern Baptists have ministered “care, compassion, and the gospel to refugees who come to the United States” and encouraged our churches and families “to welcome and adopt refugees into their churches and homes as a means to demonstrate to the nations that our God longs for every tribe, tongue, and nation to be welcomed at his throne (Revelation 5:9; Revelation 7:9–12; Psalms 68:5; James 1:27; Leviticus 25:35; Leviticus 19: 33–34).” We mourn the plight of refugees and affirm that “Christian love should be extended to them as special objects of God’s mercy in a world that has displaced them from their homelands.”
The ERLC will continue the admirable Southern Baptist legacy of advocating for the dignity of vulnerable people around the globe. Central to the Church’s mission is the biblical mandate to pursue justice for all people, “speak[ing] up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Prov. 31:8) To truly “walk in the way of Christ,” the Church is called to “defend the rights of the poor and needy” and practice God’s love for the immigrant, refugee, and foreigner (Eph. 5:1-2, Prov. 31:9).
What kind of persecution do Uyghurs and Hong Kongers face?
The U.S. government, under both the Trump and Biden administrations, have officially determined that the CCP is committing genocide in Xinjiang, China, against Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic and religious minority groups. Since 2017, the CCP has waged a systemic campaign of oppression and persecution against Uyghurs through totalitarian tactics like pervasive surveillance, thought control, ideological reeducation, forced birth control, and compulsory labor. China has built more than 1,000 internment camps to detain between 1 and 3 million Uyghurs for “reeducation” purposes. Physical and psychological abuse such as rape, torture, malnourishment, and forced organ harvesting is rampant throughout these camps. Recently, leaked photos and files have further implicated senior Chinese officials who issued shoot-to-kill directives, trained police to exercise violent detainment measures, and ordered draconian prison sentences for thousands of Uyghurs on arbitrary charges of terrorism.
In Hong Kong, China has punished dissent and violently suppressed unrest by wielding the same “security” practices used in mainland China under the National Security Law. This law endangers political dissenters and people of faith in Hong Kong, placing them at risk of life prison sentences or extradition to the mainland.
What is Priority 2 refugee status?
The United Nations High Council for Refugees (UNHCR) defines a refugee as “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence.” Refugees must have “a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.” The U.S. refugee program categorizes eligible refugees in one of three priority groups. Priority 2 (P-2) refugee status is granted to “groups of special humanitarian concern,” which are often specific ethnic, religious, or national people groups vulnerable to persecution.
Offering P-2 refugee status provides a lifeline to vulnerable Uyghur Muslims and Hong Kong dissenters. This status would grant Uyghurs and Hong Kongers direct access to the U.S. refugee system, expediting their ability to apply for asylum or long-term residency. P-2 refugees are not required to obtain referrals from the UNHCR or an embassy, which helps accelerate the process for Uyghurs and Hong Kongers who must quickly flee a country where they face immediate threats of genocide and persecution.
Priority 2 refugee status is an increasingly important tool in the United States’ arsenal as the refugee resettlement program faces unprecedented backlogs. Without priority status, those Uyghurs and Hong Kongers who are able to escape would be forced to wait years in perilous circumstances to eventually be processed and find safety in the United States.
How is the ERLC involved?
A bipartisan coalition of senators and representatives are currently working to finalize the Bipartisan Innovation Act. The bill is a multibillion dollar economic competitiveness package meant to bolster American technology and innovation and keep pace with China. Versions of this bill passed the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives with significant differences, and now, members of both parties from both chambers—known as conferees—are negotiating to reconcile a final package. Priority 2 refugee status for Uyghurs and Hong Kongers was included in the House-passed version of this legislation but was previously excluded from the Senate-passed version. The ERLC sent a letter to Congressional leadership and conferees advocating for the inclusion of P-2 status for Uyghurs and Hong Kongers to be included in the final bill.
If the United States wants to be serious in its efforts to counter China through this package, legislators must prioritize efforts to counter China morally. Providing refuge to these vulnerable people would send a clear message to Beijing that the United States opposes the CCP’s attempts to oppress religious and ethnic minorities and silence its dissenters by denying them fundamental human rights. By offering P-2 refugee status to Uyghurs and Hong Kongers fleeing persecution, America can demonstrate that this country is a safe haven for the persecuted and a vanguard against nations that abuse human rights and violate religious liberties.
ERLC Intern Daniel Hostetter contributed to this article.