As many as 52 Indians, most of them Sikhs and also some Christians, are being held at a detention center in the US state of Oregon. They said they wanted to seek political asylum in the United States as they faced “severe religious persecution” in India.

The Indians are part of a larger group of 123 people who are being held at a facility in Sheridan, Oregon, as illegal immigrants, the Press Trust of India reported.

The detention center was visited on Saturday by a group of Congress members belonging to the Democratic Party. One of them, Representative Suzanne Bonamici, wrote: “Through our Punjabi translator, we learned that these men were planning to request asylum because they faced severe religious persecution in India. Most are Sikh or Christian. Instead, they were incarcerated in a federal prison.

“They said they came to the United States for religious freedom, but they felt as if they were ‘going crazy’ because they are being confined in small cells for up to 22 hours a day,” she stated, adding that they pointed out that non-immigrant prisoners got far more time out of their cells.

Media have reported that allegations of persecution of Sikhs in India had come up prominently during a debate in Britain’s House of Commons in March.

According to a Pew Research Center analysis, India ranked fourth-worst among 198 countries in terms of religious intolerance – government restrictions and social hostilities involving religion. India also ranks 15th-highest for persecution of Christians on the 2017 World Watch List compiled by Open Doors, a monitoring organization. The list is curated on the evaluation of places where it is highly risky to practice Christianity, and India’s rank was at 31 four years ago.

The asylum seekers have been held at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan for more than a month. Six of them are husbands and fathers separated from their spouses and children. Reports say that the US administration of President Donald Trump under a “zero-tolerance” policy toward refugees has been separating parents from children and detaining the latter.

More than a thousand people including human-rights activists and Cristian groups protested and held a vigil near the Sheridan prison facility on Monday.

The congressional delegation also included US Senator Ron Wyden, who said: “As the child of parents whose families found refuge in America from the terrors of Nazi Germany, I strongly believe Donald Trump’s cruel and callous treatment of human beings seeking asylum flies in the face of America’s core humanitarian values.”