220 Syrian Refugees Admitted Over Past 2 Weeks Include 1 Christian

By Patrick Goodenough | April 25, 2016 | 4:24am EDT
The Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan. (Photo: UNHCR/A.McDonnell)

(CNSNews.com) – The number of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States continues to grow--including 220 admitted over the past two weeks--but the proportion of Christians among those refugees remains well below one percent.

Only one of the 220 new arrivals over the past two weeks is a Christian, according to State Department Refugee Processing Center data. Another 200 are Sunni Muslims, nine are Shi’a and ten are Yazidis, another non-Muslim minority targeted for persecution by ISIS.

Of the 220 new arrivals since April 11, 63 (28.6 percent) are males between the ages of 14 and 50, 56 (25.4 percent) are females in that age group, and 89 (40.4 percent) are children under 14. The remaining 12 are men and women aged over 50.

Of a total of 1,295 Syrian refugees admitted since the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) attacked Paris last November, giving rise to concerns about terrorist exploitation of refugee programs, five (less than 0.4 percent) are Christians.

The majority – 1,244, or 96 percent – are Sunni Muslims, while the rest comprise 17 Shi’a Muslims, 18 other Muslims, 10 Yazidis and one individual identified as “other religion.”

Syrians fleeing the civil war fear for their safety for many reasons, the tyranny of ISIS and other radical Islamist groups being just one. Even so, among U.S.-admitted refugees the fraction of Christians remains significantly smaller than the community’s size relative to the overall Syrian population.

When the conflict began in early 2011 there were some 1.7 million Christians, accounting for an estimated 9-10 percent of the Syrian population. European agencies working with displaced Syrian Christians estimate that at least 700,000 have fled their homeland since then.

Over that same period, the federal government has admitted 58 Syrian Christian refugees – or 1.6 percent of the total 3,459 Syrians permitted to settle in the U.S.

Meanwhile 3,249 (93.9 percent) of the 3,459 are Sunnis. The rest are non-Sunni minorities, including Shi’ites (30), other Muslims (78), Jehovah’s Witnesses (8), Yazidis (11), Zoroastrians (6), Baha’i (2), atheists (3), “no religion” (7) and “other religion” (7).

President Obama has pledged to admit a total of 10,000 Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016, and the State Department last February established a special refugee “resettlement surge center” in Amman, Jordan, aimed at speeding up processing times, to ensure that goal is reached.

With the fiscal year more than halfway through, the government has admitted 1,586 Syrian refugees, less than one-fifth of the target number if wants to achieve by the end of September.

Of those 1,586 admissions, 1,530 (96.4 percent) are Sunni Muslims and 10 (0.6 percent) are Christians.

The number of Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. in FY 2016, showing total number and breakdown for Sunni Muslims, Christians and others. (Data: State Department Refugee Processing Center/Graph: CNSNews.com)

The remainder comprise 17 Shi’a Muslims, 18 other Muslims, 10 Yazidis and one individual identified as “other religion.”

Last week the chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Robert George, told lawmakers the U.S. refugee admission program should give highest priority to applicants “who are vulnerable to genocide, enslavement, murder, torture.”

In March, 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.

Legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate on the same day would give priority status to members of religious minorities fleeing ISIS persecution, and require the government to set aside 10,000 refugee places annually for Syrian religious minorities, for five years.

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