(CNSNews.com) – As the administration pushes ahead with a “surge” of Syrian refugee processing aimed at reaching its target of 10,000 this fiscal year, the proportion of Christians among those admitted remains smaller than one percent of the total.
Since the Paris attack last November highlighted the risk of terrorist groups using refugee admission programs as a cover to gain entry into Western countries, the State Department has now admitted 1,075 Syrian refugees.
Of these 1,075 Syrian refugees, 1,070 are Muslims, 4 are Christians and 1 is described as "no religion." Of the 1,070 Muslim refugees, 1,044 are Sunni Muslims, 8 are Shi'a Muslims and 18 are otherwised undefined Muslims.
The 4 Christian refugees make up 0.37 percent of the total. The 1,044 Sunnis make up 97.1 percent.
State Department Refugee Processing Center data for the fiscal year to date show that a total of 1,366 Syrian refugees have been admitted since October 1, 2015.
Of those 1,366 refugees, 1,330 (97.3 per cent) are Sunnis and nine (0.6 percent) are Christians – three Catholics, two Orthodox, one Greek Orthodox, and three refugees described simply as “Christian.”
With the fiscal year more than half over, the administration has thus far managed to reach less than 15 percent of the target of 10,000 Syrian refugees announced by President Obama last fall.
The State Department recently established a special “resettlement surge center” in Amman, Jordan, aimed at speeding up processing times dramatically. The department maintains that the fast-tracking will not compromise security screening.
At the time when the Syrian conflict began in early 2011 – after the Assad regime cracked down on initially peaceful protests – Christians made up an estimated 10 percent of the Syrian population, and Sunnis an estimated 74 percent.
Yet that proportion is nowhere near reflected in the total number of refugees admitted to the U.S. since the conflict began in March 2011.
Since then, a total of 3,239 Syrian refugees have entered the U.S., of whom 3,049 (94.1 percent) are Sunnis and 57 (1.7 percent) are Christians.
The rest are other non-Sunni minorities, including Shi’ites, heterodox Muslims, Zoroastrians, Baha’i, Jehovah’s Witnesses and atheists.
Although persecution on the grounds of religion is one of five grounds for determining whether an applicant should be granted refugee status under international law, State Department officials say that the U.S. program does not, and should not, prioritize any one religion.
Organizations working to help Christians among the fleeing Syrians say some, fearing for their safety, avoid registering with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or sheltering in U.N. camps, preferring to seek the help of churches, charities or relatives in surrounding countries.
Since the UNHCR refers applicants for refugee status in the U.S. – prior to U.S. interview and screening procedures – that reticence is viewed as a factor contributing to the small number of Christians among those arriving in the U.S. (although the UNHCR says refugees do not need to stay in a refugee camp in order to be registered with the agency.)
Last month, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced legislation that would give priority status to members of religious minorities fleeing persecution at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) or other groups in Syria.
The legislation would allow Syrian minorities to bypass the UNHCR and apply directly to the U.S. resettlement program.
Cotton introduced the bill after Secretary of State John Kerry formally determined that atrocities being carried out by ISIS against Christians and other minorities in the areas it controls constitutes genocide.
The above graphs can also be seen here in PDF format: