(Update: As of midafternoon eastern time on Monday 224 new Syrian refugee arrivals have been reported. That lifts the total this fiscal year to 10,126, of whom 52 or 0.51 percent are Christians; and 9,945 or 98.2 percent, are Sunni Muslims.)
(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration is expected on Monday – a month ahead of schedule – to achieve its goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year.
As of late Sunday, 9,902 had been resettled in the United States, but more than 200 more are expected to arrive from Jordan and surrounding areas over the next day. U.S. Ambassador to Jordan Alice Wells told reporters the 10,000 target announced by President Obama last September will be reached on Monday.
Barring an unlikely last-minute shift, the number of Christians among the 10,000 will be less than half of one percent.
Of the 9,902 before Monday’s arrivals, just 47 (0.47 percent) are Christians, according to State Department Refugee Processing Center data.
The vast majority of the Syrian refugees permitted to resettle in the United States are Sunni Muslims – 9,726 of the 9,902, or 98.2 percent. Another 20 are Shi’a Muslims, and a further 85 are identified in the data simply as Muslims.
The 47 Christians comprise seven Catholics, four Protestants, six Orthodox, one Greek Orthodox and 29 refugees self-reported simply as “Christian.”
Apart from the Muslims and Christians, others admitted during FY 2016 are 14 Yazidis, four Jehovah’s Witnesses, five refugees identified as “other religion,” and one as having “no religion.”
The drawn-out and complex Syrian civil war, which began with a crackdown on dissent in March 2011, has seen numerous act of terror and evident war crimes committed by the Assad regime and its allies, Islamist extremists and other combatants. Millions of Syrians have fled their homeland.
Obama announced last fall that the U.S. would admit 10,000 refugees from Syria during the fiscal year – a six-fold increase from the total 1,682 admissions in FY 2015, which in turn was up from a mere 105 in FY 2014 and 36 in FY 2013.
The initiative took off slowly: By the end of January – one-third of the way through FY 2016 – only 841 Syrian refugees had been admitted.
Then in February the State Department set up a refugee resettlement “surge” center in Amman, Jordan, drastically reducing application processing times.
Between February and April, Department of Homeland Security officers carried out interviews in Jordan with around 12,000 Syrian refugee applicants referred by the U.N. refugee agency, Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richard told a briefing earlier this month. She described the screening as “rigorous and exhaustive.”
The “surge” saw the pace of admissions gradually quicken: After just 330 admissions in March and 451 in April, the number jumped to 1,069 in May, 2,406 in June and 2,340 in July.
So far, August has brought a further 2,351 Syrian refugee admissions, but by month’s end on Wednesday the number is expected to exceed 2,600, surpassing June’s monthly record high.
And if the admissions continue at a similar pace, by the time FY 2016 ends on September 30 the year’s total could well exceed 11,000.
From the outset, Obama’s proposal drew strong criticism from Republican governors and lawmakers, citing security concerns and fears that radical groups could use the refugee program to infiltrate terrorists into the country – as has occurred in Europe.
Some criticism focused on the miniscule proportion among the successful applicants who are Christians, Yazidis, or members of other minorities that have borne the brunt of atrocities carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) – atrocities which the administration has determined amount to genocide. A Syrian Christian leader estimates that at least one million Christians have fled the country since the conflict began.
Among those calling for greater priority to be given to Christians were former GOP presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, while Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced legislation designed to give priority status to members of religious minorities fleeing persecution at the hands of ISIS or other groups.
Administration officials have largely dismissed the criticism, arguing that an exceptionally tough screening process applies to applicants for refugee status from Syria.
In the case of appeals for more non-Muslims to be included among those admitted; the administration has characterized the calls as un-American.
“When individuals say we should have a religious test and that only Christians, proven Christians, should be admitted, that’s offensive and contrary to American values,” Obama said last fall.
In fact, most prominent figures raising the issue have not argued for “only Christians” to be admitted, but rather that as a directly targeted minority, a larger number should be admitted than has been the case.
About 10 percent of Syria’s population is Christian, but fewer than 0.5 percent of Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. in FY 2016 are Christians. Over the entire civil war, the proportion of Christians admitted to the U.S. is just 0.8 percent (95 out of a total of 11,775).
Around 74 percent of Syrians are Sunnis, yet the proportion of Sunnis among the Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. in FY 2016 is 98.2 percent, and the proportion since the conflict began in March 2011 is 97.2 percent (11,445 of a total of 11,775).
Obama is due to an international refugee summit at the U.N. in New York in September. He is also expected next month to announce his plans for refugee admissions in FY 2017.
Assistant Secretary Richards said this month she expect the U.S. to “continue to welcome large numbers of Syrians” in FY 2017, but said it was too early to talk about target numbers.