Syrian Refugee ‘Surge’ to U.S. in April: 440 Muslims, 10 Yazidis, 1 Christian

By Patrick Goodenough | May 10, 2016 | 4:24am EDT
Assyrian Christians light candles on Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015, east of Beirut, Lebanon. At least 700,000 Syrian Christians are estimated to have fled their country since the civil war began. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

( – The Obama administration’s “surge” of Syrian refugee admissions approved for resettlement in the United States jumped by 37 percent in April – to 451 from 330 the previous month.

Of those 451, 426 were Sunni Muslims and one was a Christian, according to State Department Refugee Processing Center data. The remaining 24 comprised nine Shi’a Muslims, five other Muslims and 10 Yazidis.

The first ten days of May have brought a further 99 admissions, all Sunnis.

President Obama last fall pledged to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016. After a slow start – four months into FY2016, only 841 had been admitted – the State Department set up a special refugee “resettlement surge center” in Amman, Jordan in February.

With processing times reduced from approximately 18-24 months to just three months, the pace duly picked up – with a total of 114 Syrian refugee admissions in February climbing to 330 in March and to 451 in April.

The proportion of Christians among the admissions has not increased, however. With the exception of October, when four were admitted, each month this fiscal year has seen just one Christian included among the Syrian refugees entering the U.S.

Syrian refugees admitted into the United States in FY 2016. (Data: State Department Refugee Processing Center)

As of Monday, the total number of admissions over that period is 1,835. Of them 10 – 0.5 percent – are Christians.

Millions of Syrians of all faiths and none have fled their homeland since the civil war began in the spring of 2011, whether escaping from the Allawite Assad regime and its Shi’ite backers, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) or other Sunni Islamist groups among the opposition, or more generally from the violence and deprivation.

They include Sunnis, Shi’a, Christians, Allawites, Yazidis, Zoroastrians, Baha’i, atheists and others.

Still, the proportion of Christians among the refugees admitted into the U.S. since the conflict began (1.5 percent, or 58 of a total of 3,708 as of Monday) is significantly smaller than the proportion of Christians in the Syrian population – an estimated 10 percent in 2011, according to the CIA World Factbook.

And the proportion of Sunnis among the Syrian refugees admitted into the U.S. over that period (94.2 percent, or 3,493 of the total of 3,708) is considerably larger than the proportion of Sunnis in the total population – an estimated 74 percent in 2011.

Syrian refugees admitted into the US since conflict began. (Data: State Department Refugee Processing Center)

As reported earlier, many Christians who leave Syria do not register with the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, for fear of their safety in U.N. refugee camps. Because UNHCR referral plays an important part in the early stage of U.S. refugee applications, Christians may therefore be inadvertently disadvantaged.

Because of this, some Republican lawmakers and governors have called for Christians and other religious minorities to be prioritized in U.S. refugee admissions. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark) introduced legislation last March that would enable Syrian minorities to bypass the U.N. and apply directly to the U.S. resettlement program.

Administration officials have rejected calls for Christians to be prioritized.

In March, Secretary of State John Kerry announced in response to a legislative requirement that atrocities carried out by ISIS against Christians and other minorities in the areas it controls constitutes genocide.

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