Trump: It’s Easier For Syrian Christians to Enter the US Now Than Under Obama

Patrick Goodenough | October 15, 2019 | 4:37am EDT
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President Trump holds up just-signed legislation authorizing support for Syrians and Iraqis, especially religious and ethnic minorities, in December 2018.  (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

( – President Trump said at the weekend that his administration has, in contrast to its predecessor, made it easier for Syrian Christians to come to the United States.

The president, speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington on Saturday, did not say whether he was referring to refugees specifically, although the totality of the remarks suggested that he was.

“If you were a Christian in Syria – which was a rough place to be – you had almost no chance, during the last administration, of coming into the United States,” he said.

“It was, they say, the hardest thing to do to come into the United States. Number one most difficult place in the world to come in was if you were a Christian in Syria.”

“If you were a Muslim in Syria, it was extremely easy to come into the United States,” Trump added.

“And the Christians were persecuted in Syria,” he continued. “And that’s the way it is.”

“But,” Trump said, “it’s not that way anymore.”

Syrians of all faiths and ethnicities have suffered during the long and convoluted civil war that broke out in early 2011, with minorities – including Christians, Shi’ites and Kurds – especially hard hit.

Among the Sunnis were both victims (targeted by Bashar al-Assad, an adherent of the Alawite sect of Shi’a Islam, and his Iranian and Hezbollah allies) and victimizers (as in the case of ISIS and other jihadist and Salafist groups.)

The Obama administration determined that atrocities against Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities by ISIS in areas under its control constituted genocide.

But while some Republican lawmakers pressed at the time for non-Muslim minorities to be prioritized among applicants for refugee status, President Obama demurred, rejecting what he said would amount to a “religious test” in the refugee admission process.

Sunnis accounted for about 74 percent of the population when the conflict began, but of all Syrians granted refugee status in the U.S. between March 2011 and the end of the Obama administration, 97.1 percent were Sunnis.

Trump has drawn flak for significantly reducing the number of refugees from around the world that the U.S. resettles each year. In the just-ended fiscal year 2019, the U.S. admitted exactly 30,000 refugees, according to State Department Refugee Processing Center data.

The previous fiscal year saw a total of 22,491 refugees resettled in the U.S., which was less than half of the 53,716 admitted in FY 2017, and less than one-third of the 84,994 refugees who arrived in FY 2016.

Under the Trump administration, the proportion of self-identified Christians among the refugees admitted into the U.S. has grown markedly, and the proportion of self-identified Muslims has duly dropped.

The pattern has affected refugees from Syria too, although to a lesser extent.

In FY 2016, a year that accounted for the largest annual U.S. refugee intake in 17 years, 12,587 Syrians were among the total 84,994 refugees resettled. Of those Syrians, 99.2 percent were Muslims, and only 0.5 percent were Christians.

The pattern continued in FY 2017, when 97.8 percent of the 6,557 Syrian refugees admitted were Muslims and 1.7 percent were Christians.

(Graph: State Department Refugee Processing Center)

By FY 2018, Syrian refugee admissions had been slashed to 60. Muslims still outnumbered Christians, but now only by two to one (66 percent Muslims, 33 percent Christians).

In FY 2019, the number of Syrian refugee admissions picked up again, reaching 563. Of them, 90.4 percent (509) were Muslims, mostly Sunnis, and 8.7 percent (49) were Christians.

Marked shift

Data for refugees arriving in the U.S. from across the world show a distinct change in the proportion of Christians to Muslims under the Trump administration.

Under the Obama administration in FY 2016, 45.7 percent of the refugees resettled in the U.S. were Muslims, while 44.5 percent were Christians.

In FY 2017, adherents of the two major religions were still relatively evenly balanced: 47.2 percent of the refugees resettled in the U.S. were Christians, compared to 42.1 percent Muslims.

In FY 2018, however, the ratio had shifted to 71.2 percent Christians, against 15.5 percent Muslims.

(Graph: State Department Refugee Processing Center)

And in FY 2019, 79.2 percent (23,763) of the 30,000 refugees admitted to the U.S. were Christians, while 16.5 percent (4,943) were Muslims.

Last December, Trump signed into law legislation authorizing government agencies to provide humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery assistance for Syrians and Iraqis, in particular religious and ethnic minorities at risk of persecution or war crimes.


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