Religious Freedom Watchdog: Prioritize Syrian Refugees Targeted for Religious Reasons

By Patrick Goodenough | December 2, 2015 | 4:19 AM EST

Syrian women wait to collect aid from relief agencies in the eastern Lebanese town of Arsal in November 2013. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein, File)

(CNSNews.com) – The United States should prioritize the resettlement of Syrian refugees “based on their vulnerability,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said Tuesday. He noted that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) has targeted religious minorities for persecution.

USCIRF Chairman Robert George said the commission, an independent statutory body that advises the executive and legislative branches, “calls on the United States to prioritize the resettlement of Syrian refugees based on their vulnerability.”

“Throughout the region, Christians and members of some other religious minority communities have been targeted by ISIL for persecution – and in some cases genocide – because of their faith,” he said.

“At the same time, we recognize that ISIL has also targeted both Shia and Sunni Muslims who have resisted their violent ideology,” George added. “In these instances, religion, as an important factor in determining vulnerability, may legitimately be taken into account in the prioritization process.”

The USCIRF reiterated its support for the ongoing resettling of Syrian refugees in the U.S.

“The United States must continue to live up to our nation's core values which are reflected in our leadership in resettling vulnerable refugees,” said George. “That responsibility starts with a generous policy of admitting those Syrian refugees to the United States who are vulnerable to the most horrific mistreatment – including murder, rape, torture, and enslavement.”

He said the commission recognizes the threat ISIS poses to the U.S. but added that it was “important to underscore that individuals seeking resettlement as refugees are among the most carefully vetted people to enter our country.”

“This rigorous individualized vetting allows the United States to both welcome Syrian refugees and protect security.”

Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities have often been particularly targeted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) and other jihadist groups in the war zone.

President Obama, who plans to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. in fiscal year 2016, has been highly critical of calls by some Republicans – including presidential candidates – for Christians to be prioritized.

A similar debate has been playing out in Australia, where a government announcement last September that it will admit an additional 12,000 refugees from the conflict, prioritizing “those most in need – the women, children and families of persecuted minorities” drew criticism from Muslim organizations.

After the first new refugees began to arrive two weeks ago, Australian federal cabinet minister Scott Morrison reiterated in a radio interview that the government was “focusing on those persecuted minorities and that obviously includes a very large Christian component. In fact the majority, I would expect.”

“And that’s because it’s those communities who are at most long-term risk in the Middle East,” Morrison said. “I mean, Christians will never be able to go back to some of these countries for generations – for generations. And we’re offering permanent resettlement.”

However Andrew Harper, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) director in Jordan, pushed back at the comments, telling Australia’s national broadcaster that 99 percent of the more than 600,000 Syrian refugees now in Jordan were Sunni Muslim.

“When people are talking about focusing only on minorities, that’s not necessarily a true reflection of the people who are probably most at risk,” he said.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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