Syrian refugee admissions soar, but none are Christian

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( – The Obama administration has admitted 499 Syrian refugees so far this month, with no Christians among them.

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 fiscal 2016 began in October, a total of 2,235 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the United States. Of them, 10 (0.44 percent) are Christian: 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 since October 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.”

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, at 451.

The pace has picked up noticeably since February, when the State Department opened a special refugee “resettlement surge center” in Amman, Jordan, to speed up processing. Until then, President Barack Obama’s goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees in the current fiscal year looked set to fall woefully short, with only 841 in total admitted by Jan. 31.

Even with the “surge” and significantly accelerated processing times – from around 18 to 24 months down to just three months – achieving the president’s 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 attacks in Paris in November fueled concerns that the terrorist group would try to infiltrate fighters into Western nations through refugee admission programs. According to French prosecutors, two of the Paris attackers had evidently entered Europe through Greece, posing as refugees fleeing from the fighting in Syria.

In the U.S., Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate committee in February that Islamic State leaders were “taking advantage of the torrent of migrants [entering Europe] to insert operatives into that flow.”

Dozens of Republican governors pushed back against allowing Syrian refugees to settle in their states before a thorough vetting process could be established, 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 Islamic State terrorists 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 Muslim, and another 16 percent comprising various other Muslim sects, including Shi’a, Allawite and Druze.

The U.N. refugee agency 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 it 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,” U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said on the Senate floor in 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.”

Written by Patrick Goodenough