Kerry: We will meet Obama’s goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees

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( – The Obama administration will meet its target of settling 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States by the time fiscal year 2016 ends on September 30, Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Tuesday night.

Addressing an end-of-Ramadan Eid al-Fitr reception at the State Department, Kerry noted that the 10,000 figure would be a six-fold increase in Syrian refugee admissions from FY 2015.

“Tonight, I can announce proudly that we will meet President Obama’s goal of welcoming 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States in the current fiscal year,” he said.

“Those are refugees, which is different from normal process of migration and green card and becoming a citizen and so forth. It’s a very different category,” Kerry added. “It’s also representing six-fold increase over what we did the year before.”

(A total of 1,682 Syrian refugees were resettled in FY 2015.)

Obama’s 10,000 target drew strong opposition from critics concerned about the possibility that groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) may use refugee admission programs to infiltrate terrorists into Western countries.

The fact that two of the ISIS terrorists who attacked Paris last November had – according to French prosecutors – entered Europe posing as refugees fleeing the fighting in Syria fueled the concerns.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told lawmakers early this year ISIS was “taking advantage of the torrent of migrants [entering Europe] to insert operatives into that flow.”

Dozens of GOP governors said they would not allow Syrian refugees to settle in their states. Some Republicans are also calling for Christians and other religious minorities to be prioritized in U.S. refugee admissions.

The administration’s plan got off to a slow start: By the end of January – one-third of the way through FY 2016 – only 841 had been admitted.

But in February the State Department set up a special refugee “resettlement surge center” in Amman, Jordan, with officials saying processing times were being reduced from 18-24 months to just three months.

The pace of admissions began to pick up, and then accelerate significantly: According to State Department Refugee Processing Center data, 114 were resettled in February, 330 in March, 251 in April, then a jump to 1,069 in May, and a much bigger one to 2,406 in June.

In the first 12 days of July, another 280 Syrian refugees have been admitted, taking the total for FY 2016 to 5,491.

The one constant that not changed over the months has been the tiny proportion of the admitted refugees who are Christians or others not of the Sunni Muslim faith.

Of the 5,491 refugees resettled as of Tuesday, just 20 (0.36 percent) are Christians, 10 (0.18 percent) are Yazidi, and 17 (0.30 percent) are Shi’a.

Another 38 are other Muslims, one is defined as having “no religion” and one is described as “other religion.”

All the rest – 5,404 or 98.4 percent – are Sunnis.

Of the 280 Syrian refugees admitted so far in July, all 280 are Sunnis.

When the civil war began in 2011 Sunnis accounted for an estimated 74 percent of the Syrian population, and Christians for an estimated 10 percent.

In his Eid remarks, Kerry also announced that the U.S. would immediately be contributing another $439 million to help Syrian refugees and internally displaced people – “in addition to the $5.1 billion in humanitarian assistance that we have already provided since the start of the Syrian civil war.”

“I’m proud to say that the United States is by far the largest contributor of emergency aid, but we all recognize that still more needs to be done,” he said.

“More needs to be done to help those who are besieged inside Syria. More has to be done to assist refugees,” Kerry added .

“More has to be done to support Syria’s neighbors – Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey – and more to resolve this brutal conflict that has cost far too many lives and forced far too many people from their homes.”

Kerry heads for Moscow this week in a bid to advance efforts to negotiate an end to the civil war, now in its sixth year.

— Written by Patrick Goodenough