(CNSNews.com) – Since the Paris terror attacks on November 13, the State Department has admitted 237 Syrian refugees into the United States – 236 Sunni Muslims and one Christian (0.4 percent), according to data from the State Department Refugee Processing Center.
The Christian, a Greek Orthodox individual, is the sole non-Sunni Muslim admitted to the U.S. since the attack, which fueled concerns that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) may move terrorists into Western nations under the cover of refugee resettlement programs.
According to the CIA World Factbook, Christians accounted for an estimated 10 percent of the Syrian population and Sunni Muslims for an estimated 74 percent when the conflict began in early 2011.
Of the 237 Syrian refugees permitted to resettle in the U.S. since November 13, 123 are male, 114 are female. Of the 237, 65 (27.4 percent) are men between the ages of 14 and 50, while 55 (23.2 percent) are women aged 14-50.
Another 107 (45.1 percent) are children aged under 14, of whom 54 are males and 53 females.
President Obama plans to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. during fiscal year 2016. Since FY2016 began on October 1, a total of 528 Syrian refugees have been admitted into the U.S. They comprise 522 (98.8 percent) Sunni Muslims and six Christians – three Catholic, one Orthodox, one Greek Orthodox and one simply described as “Christian.”
According to Refugee Processing Center data, 137 of the 528 (25.9 percent) admitted since Oct. 1 are men aged between 14 and 50; 117 (22.1 percent) are women aged 14-50; 250 (47.3 percent) are children, of whom 132 are boys and 118 are girls; and 24 (4.5 percent) are older than 50, of whom 12 are men and 12 women.
Since the Syrian civil war began in mid-March 2011, a total of 2,401 Syrian refugees have been admitted into the U.S. Of those, 2,241 (93.3 percent) were Sunni Muslims, an additional 60 were described simply as “Moslem,” and 13 were Shia.
Only 54 (2.2 percent) were Christian (including five Orthodox, one Greek Orthodox and four Catholics). The remaining religious breakdown was eight Jehovah’s Witness, six Zoroastrians, three atheists, two Baha’i, one Yazidi, seven “no religion” and six “other religion.”
Of the total 2,410 Syrian refugees admitted since March 2011, 659 (27.3 percent) are men aged between 14 and 50.
‘Particular efforts to encourage religious and other minorities to register’
Most applications for refugee status in the U.S. are initially referred by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), before going through what the administration describes as “rigorous security screening involving multiple federal intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies.”
According to the State Department, the UNHCR identifies refugees for resettlement based on vulnerability, which may include belonging to a religious or ethnic minority.”
As of December 2, the UNHCR has 2,181,293 registered Syrian refugees in Turkey, 1,075,637 in Lebanon, 632,762 in Jordan, 244,527 in Iraq, 127,681 in Egypt and 26,772 in North Africa – a total of 4,288,672.
Refugee advocacy groups say many of the Christians among Syrians who leave their homeland do not register with the UNHCR, and are fearful for their safety in U.N. refugee camps.
Asked about those concerns, UNHCR public information officer Christopher Boian said that most Syrian refugees in the countries of the region – about 85 percent – live in cities rather than in U.N. camps.
“It is by no means a prerequisite for registration that a refugee be living in a refugee camp,” he said.
Boian explained that the UNHCR “routinely registers refugees in urban environments.”
“UNHCR has put in place proactive measures to ensure that all asylum-seekers have access to UNHCR registration and services, and has undertaken particular efforts to encourage religious and other minorities to register,” he added.
In Turkey, where some half of the Syrian refugees are located, the Turkish government, rather than the UNHCR, is responsible for their registration.
Boian said the agency does not have a breakdown by religion for the refugees registered in the countries of the region.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has urged the State Department to prioritize Syrians who are targeted for religious reasons when considering refugee applications.
At a USCIRF-hosted event in Washington in late October, High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres emphasized that the agency does not discriminate on the basis of religion – “but we consider that the fact that you belong to a religious minority is an important element of vulnerability.”
“And we apply a vulnerability criterion, which means that the fact you belong to a religious minority, especially if that religious minority is threatened, is obviously one of the criteria that we apply in the choice of people in need of protection through resettlement,” he said.
Guterres said that while Syrian Christians had been “less systematically victimized” than those in Iraq, he agreed that “in some areas of the Syria situation the fact that you are a Christian is in itself a factor of vulnerability.”
On Monday, the USCIRF urged the State Department to designate five non-Muslim minorities in Syria and Iraq – Christians, Yazidis, Shi’a, Turkmen and Shabak – as victims of genocide by ISIS.
The independent statutory watchdog also called for condemnation of crimes against humanity against and persecution of Sunni Muslims, both at the hands of the Assad regime and – in cases where Sunnis “refuse to embrace their extremist ideology” – at the hands of ISIS.