Rep. Smith: 'Unconscionable' Record 499 Syrian Refugees Included No Christians

Lauretta Brown | May 26, 2016 | 6:12pm EDT
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Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, global health, global human rights, and international organizations. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

( – Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said Thursday that it was “unconscionable” that of the record 499 Syrian refugees admitted to the United States in the first three weeks of May, not one was a Christian.

Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson cited that number, reported by on Monday, in his testimony on the urgent needs facing Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria.

Smith was speaking at a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on what steps should be taken following Secretary of State Kerry’s March declaration that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) was committing genocide in Iraq and Syria against Christians and other religious minorities.

“They can’t even get into a UNHCR [U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees] or IDP [internally displaced persons] camp or a refugee camp, are unwanted, at risk,” Smith said of the Christians in Iraq and Syria.

“And as you [Anderson] pointed out a news report showed or indicated that of the 499 Syrian refugees admitted to the United States in May, not one – and I repeat and say again – not one was listed as being Christian or as explicitly coming from any of the groups targeted for genocide.”

“For me that has got to change,” Smith continued. “I mean that is unconscionable, it’s not like we haven’t been raising this for, in my case three years, in the cases of so many others, three years. And we’ve had hearing after hearing.”

“We’ve got the designation. Why aren’t Christians being focused upon?” Smith asked.

“Those who face genocide are a tiny fraction of the population,” Anderson said in his testimony. “They often must avoid official refugee camps because they are targeted for violence there by extremists. As a result, these minorities often do not get ‘official’ aid. This will continue to be the reality unless specific action is taken to bring the aid to where these minorities are forced to reside by continuing violence.”

“After World War II, there were approximately 50 million refugees, and only a small fraction were Jews. Yet the world understood that Jews, who had survived genocide, faced a qualitatively different situation, and deserved heightened consideration,” he continued.

Anderson said that Christian and Yezidi religious minorities, “as survivors of an ongoing genocide,” must “be prioritized in American policy decisions.”

Since the beginning of FY2016, 2,705 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the United States, as of Thursday, according to State Department Refugee Processing Center data.

Of them, 12 (0.44 percent) are Christians: five Catholics, two Orthodox, one Greek Orthodox and four refugees identified simply as “Christian.”

Another 10 of the 2,705 (0.36 percent) are Yazidis.

Johnny Oram, executive director of the Chaldean Assyrian Business Alliance, echoed Anderson’s concerns, saying that “as far as refugee admission to the United States the Christians have really been left out.”

“I’m not here to have a debate about religion and about Islam and Christianity but it seems 99 percent of the refugees that have been admitted to the United States are Muslim,” he said.

Anderson recommended that the United States appropriate funding and work with the UNHCR to “make provisions for locating and providing status to individuals – such as Yezidis and Christians – that have been targeted for genocide.”

“Many of these genocide survivors fear going into official U.N. refugee camps, where they are targeted,” he said.

He also urged Congress to pass legislation introduced by Sen Tom Cotton’s (R-Ark.), the Religious Persecution Relief Act, which he said would “provide for overlooked minorities in the prioritization of refugees.”

Cotton’s bill would enable Syrian minorities to bypass the U.N. and apply directly to the U.S. resettlement program. It also set aside 10,000 refugee resettlement places annually, for five years, for Syrian religious minorities.

Smith thanked Anderson for raising the legislation, and said Congress needs “to redouble our efforts” to help the survivors of genocide.

“I think we have to realize a basic reality here that there are minority, indigenous communities that have been in these lands for thousands of years and they are going to be extinguished,” Anderson concluded. “And that is a different qualitative reality and so what the world has to ask itself is: are we going to allow that to happen?”

“If the decision is no, we’re not going to allow this, then we have to make special efforts. We have to give special attention to preserve these communities,” he said.

“It’s just as simple as that, and nobody wants to apply a religious test but the fact is these people, these communities, this heritage will be gone unless we do something extra to save it.”

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