13,210 Syrian Refugees So Far in 2016; Up 675% from 2015; 99.1% Are Muslims

By Patrick Goodenough | November 1, 2016 | 4:04 AM EDT

Millions of Syrians of all religious and ethnic backgrounds have fled their homeland since the civil war erupted in 2011. (AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh)

(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration has resettled 13,210 Syrian refugees into the United States since the beginning of 2016 – an increase of 675 percent over the same 10-month period in 2015.

Of those, 13,100 (99.1 percent) are Muslims – 12,966 Sunnis, 24 Shi’a, and 110 other Muslims – and 77 (0.5 percent) are Christians. Another 24 (0.18 percent) are Yazidis.

During the Jan.-Oct. period in 2015, 1,705 Syrian refugees were admitted, of whom 1,664 (97.5 percent) were Muslims and 29 (1.7 percent) were Christians.

Meanwhile the surge of Syrian refugee admissions initiated by the administration last February has continued into the new fiscal year, now one month-old: A total of 1,297 were resettled during October – a 593 percent increase over the 187 admitted in October 2015.

October’s arrivals were once again dominated by Sunni Muslims, accounting for 1,263 (97.3 percent) of the total. Another seven were Shi’a Muslims and 12 were other Muslims. The rest of the October intake comprised 15 (1.1 percent) Christians – eight Orthodox, four Catholics and three refugees self-described simply as Christians.

That comes after last fiscal year saw a total of 12,587 Syrian refugees admitted, of whom 12,363 (98.2 percent) were Sunnis, and 68 (0.5 percent) were Christians, according to State Department Refugee Processing Center data.

The rest of the Syrian refugees admitted during FY2016 were 103 other Muslims, 20 Shi’a Muslims, 24 Yazidis, eight refugees with religion given as “other,” and one with “no religion.”

Syrians of all religious and ethnic groups have been victimized in the costly civil war, which has pitted a regime dominated by Allawites – a sect of Shi’a Islam – and its Shi’a allies against mostly Sunni rebel groups. A Sunni-majority population and Christian and other minorities are caught in between, with some supporting warring groups on either side.

But jihadists among the rebels, and especially the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL), have also targeted Christians, Yazidis and other minorities in particular. Last March 17, Secretary of State John Kerry announced, in line with a legislative requirement, that the treatment of Christians and other minorities in areas controlled by ISIS amounts to genocide.

Since that genocide determination, the Obama administration has resettled a total of 12,743 Syrian refugees in the U.S., but only 74 (0.58 percent) of them are Christians, and only 24 (0.18 percent) of them are Yazidis. The vast majority – 12,637, or 99.16 percent – are Muslims, including 12,516 Sunnis.

According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the five criteria for considering refugee status applications are persecution for reasons of religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group.

Although religious persecution is one of those five official vulnerability criteria, administration officials say the U.S. does not and should not prioritize any particular religious affiliation when considering Syrians’ applications.

When the civil war began in March 2011, an estimated 74 percent of the Syrian population was Sunni Muslim and an estimated 10 percent was Christian.

Therefore if the U.S. admitted Christian Syrian refugees in proportion to the population, roughly 1,260 Christians would have been resettled in the United States in FY2016. Just 68 were.

Estimates of the number of Christians who have fled their country since 2011 vary, but the international Christian charity Barnabas Fund estimated some 600,000 earlier this year, the European Parliament said at least 700,000 had done so, and a Chaldean Catholic bishop from Aleppo last March put the figure at at least one million.

One new report estimates that the Syrian Christian population has dropped from 1.25 million in 2011 to less than 500,000 this year.

The U.S. is not alone in admitting such a small proportion of Christians and Yazidis. Data in Britain, released as a result of a freedom of information request, found that 1.9 percent of 2,659 Syrian refugees resettled there between September 2015 and the end of June this year were Christians, and 0.5 percent were Yazidis.

Then-British Prime Minister David Cameron said last fall Britain would take in 20,000 Syrian refugees.

“Whilst the U.K. government points out that it outsources its selection of vulnerable refugees to the U.N., its toleration of this level of discrimination against some of the most vulnerable people in the world is itself morally wrong,” said the Barnabas Fund when the figures emerged this month.

“For it to tolerate this when Christians and Yazidis are actually facing genocide in Syria and Iraq is a national scandal of historic proportions.”

Like Britain, the U.S. relies largely on the U.N. refugee agency for initial referral of refugee applicants. But advocacy and humanitarian groups say many Syrian Christians fear for their safety in U.N. camps, where accounts of Christians being targeted by Muslim fellow refugees have been recorded.

As a result, many tend to avoid registering with the agency, relying instead on networks of churches or Christian charities in countries surrounding Syria, especially Lebanon.

As a result, many may slip through the cracks when it comes to refugee admission programs in Western nations.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow