Record 499 Syrian Refugees Admitted to US So Far in May Includes No Christians
Of the 499 admitted in May, 495 are Sunni Muslims and the remaining four are described simply as “Moslem” in State Department Refugee Processing Center data.
Since FY2016 began on October 1, a total of 2,235 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the United States. Of them, 10 (0.44 percent) are Christians: three Catholics, two Orthodox, one Greek Orthodox and four refugees identified simply as “Christian.”
Christians make up the biggest non-Muslim minority in Syria – about 10 percent before the civil war erupted.
Meanwhile the State Department figures show that 2,170 (97 percent) of the 2,235 Syrian refugee newcomers in FY2016 are Sunni Muslims. The rest are made up of 17 Shi’a Muslims, 27 other Muslims, 10 Yazidis, and one refugee identified as “other religion.”
This marks the first time the fraction of Christians admitted during any given month in FY2016 has fallen below half a percentage point. Last October, it was 2.1 percent. By year’s end it had dropped to 0.9 percent, and over the ensuing months it has edged down to 0.8, 0.7, 0.5 and now 0.4 percent.
With another week still to run, May already accounts for the highest monthly tally of Syrian refugees admitted since the civil war began in the spring of 2011. The 499 admitted so far in May also exceeds the total number admitted during the first three years of the conflict.
After this month the next highest monthly admission numbers were recorded in April 2016 (451), September 2015 (389) and March 2016 (330).
The pace has picked up noticeably since last February, when the State Department opened a special refugee “resettlement surge center” in Amman, Jordan to speed up processing. Until then, President Obama’s goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees in FY2016 looked set to fall woefully short, with only 841 in total admitted between Oct. 2015 and Jan. 2016.
Even with the “surge” and significantly accelerated processing times – from around 18-24 months down to just three months – achieving the president’s fiscal year goal still looks like a tall order: With four months and one week to go, the total number admitted is still 7,765 shy of the target.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) attacks in Paris last November fueled concerns that the terrorist group would use refugee admission programs to infiltrate fighters into Western nations. According to French prosecutors two of the Paris attackers had evidently entered Europe through Greece, posing as refugees fleeing from the fighting in Syria.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate committee in February that ISIS was “taking advantage of the torrent of migrants [entering Europe] to insert operatives into that flow.”
In the U.S., dozens of Republican governors pushed back against allowing Syrian refugees to settle in their states, citing security concerns.
Since the Paris attacks, the State Department program has admitted a total of 1,944 Syrian refugees, of whom five (0.25 percent) are Christians, 1,884 (96.9 percent) are Sunnis, 44 are Shi’a and other Muslims, 10 are Yazidis and one is “other religion.”
Last March, Secretary of State John Kerry formally determined that atrocities being carried out by ISIS against Christians, Yazidis and other minorities in the areas it controls constitutes genocide.
Before the conflict began in March 2011, the estimated Syrian population breakdown by religion was 10 percent Christian, 74 percent Sunni, and another 16 percent comprising various other Muslim traditions, including Shi’a, Allawite and Druze.
The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR acknowledges that Syrian minorities “fear that registration might bring retribution from other refugees” in the camps that it runs in countries surrounding Syria.
Many Christians therefore tend to avoid registering with the agency, and since the UNHCR plays a key role in the early stages of applications for refugee status in the U.S., Christians are unintentionally disadvantaged in the process.
“Without doubt, Syrians of all confessions are being victimized by this savage war and are facing unimaginable suffering,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said on the Senate floor last March as he introduced legislation that would set aside 10,000 refugee resettlement places annually, for five years, for Syrian religious minorities.
“But only Christians and other religious minorities are the deliberate targets of systematic persecution and genocide,” he said. “It’s well-established that many religious minorities in Syria are very reluctant to register as refugees with the United Nations because they fear facing even more persecution.”