7,551 Syrian Refugees Admitted to U.S. in FY16--Only 35 Christians

By Patrick Goodenough | August 2, 2016 | 4:11 AM EDT

Assyrian Christians light candles on Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015, near Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration admitted 2,340 Syrian refugees into the United States in July, almost as many as the record number of admissions in June (2,406), keeping it on track to reach its goal of 10,000 by the end of September.

Continuing a trend seen throughout the fiscal year, just 15 of the 2,340 resettled in July (0.6 percent) are Christians, while 2,308 (98.6 percent) are Sunni Muslims.

According to State Department Refugee Processing Center data, since the beginning of FY 2016 on October 1, a total of 7,551 Syrian refugees have been admitted. Of that number, 7,432 (98.4 percent) are Sunnis and 35 (0.46 percent) are Christians, including six Catholics, two Orthodox and one Greek Orthodox adherent.

The remaining 84 Syrian refugees admitted in FY 2016 comprise 50 other Muslims, 20 Shi’a Muslims, 10 Yazidis – like Christians, a minority singled out by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) for persecution – three refugees identified as “other religion,” and one as having “no religion.”


Since the civil war began in 2011 the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has registered 4.82 million Syrians who have fled their homeland. Some 495,000 are accommodated in U.N. refugee camps.

Displaced Syrians include those wanting to get away from ISIS and other jihadist groups, those fleeing from atrocities carried out by the Assad regime – dominated by a minority Shi’a sect that has targeted Sunnis in particular – and its Hezbollah, Iranian and Russian allies, and Syrians simply wanting to escape the chaos and deprivation of the conflict.

Although Syrians of all ethnic groups and religious denominations have been caught up in the crisis, the number of Christians among refugees admitted into the U.S. is still disproportionately small: Some 10 percent of the Syrian population is Christian, and yet Christians account for less than one percent of refugees admitted to the United States.

On the other hand, Sunnis comprised around 74 percent of the Syrian population when the war began, while the proportion of Sunnis admitted to the U.S. exceeds 97 percent.

Of a total of 9,424 Syrian refugees resettled in the U.S. since the conflict broke out,

83 (0.8 percent) are Christians, and 9,151 (97.1 percent) are Sunnis.

When the war began – originating in a violent crackdown by the regime on protestors calling for reforms – the Christian population of Syria numbered 1.5-1.7 million. A Chaldean Catholic bishop from Aleppo, Antoine Audo, told an event in Geneva last March that at least one million have fled the country since then.

Fearing for their safety, many Christians avoid U.N. refugee camps, sheltering instead in churches, schools or relatives’ homes in surrounding countries. This can mean they are less likely to be considered for refugee status by Western governments, like the U.S. government, which largely rely on the UNHCR for initial applicant referrals.

The UNHCR points out that displaced people can be – and in many cases are – registered with the agency without staying in U.N. refugee camps.

The State Department notes that in occasional cases, applicants for refugee status in the U.S. can be referred by a U.S. Embassy or a “specially trained nongovernmental organization,” rather than by the UNHCR.

Also, Syrian beneficiaries of approved I-130 immigrant visa petitions (filed by relatives already legally in the U.S.) can bypass the UNHCR and apply directly to the U.S. program, at locations in a number of countries in the Middle East.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow