(CNSNews.com) – The United States has admitted 526 Syrian refugees since Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) terrorists attacked Paris last November, and just one (less than 0.2 percent) is a Christian.
Sunni Muslims account for 512 (97.3 percent) of the 526 Syrian refugees approved for resettlement in the U.S. since the Nov. 13 attacks, which prompted fresh concerns that terrorists could use refugee admission programs to enter Western countries.
The remaining 13 comprise three Shi’ites and ten refugees identified as “Moslem,” according to data from the State Department Refugee Processing Center.
The lopsided proportion of Sunni Muslims to Christians admitted since Paris largely mirrors that since the beginning of fiscal year 2016: Over that period, which began Oct. 1, 817 Syrian refugees have been admitted, of whom six (0.7 percent) are Christians and 798 (97.6 percent) are Sunnis.
Looking further back, of the 2,690 Syrian refugees admitted into the U.S. since the civil war started in March 2011, 54 (2.0 percent) are Christians and 2,517 (93.5 percent) are Sunni Muslims. (The remainder are other minorities, including Shi’ites, heterodox Muslims, Zoroastrians and atheists.)
In contrast to those Christian/Sunni ratios – 0.19 percent/97.3 percent since the Paris attacks; 0.7 percent/97.6 percent in FY 2016; and 2.0 percent/93.5 percent since the conflict began – Christians account for an estimated 10 percent of the Syrian population, and Sunnis for an estimated 74 percent.
Whether fleeing from the Assad regime, ISIS, other opposition groups, airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition or by the regime-supporting Russians, or from violence and collapsing services and infrastructure in general, more than 4.5 million Syrians have fled their homeland since the civil war began and are registered with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
President Obama has pledged to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees during FY 2016.
Administration officials have said that while persecution on the grounds of religion is one of five grounds for determining whether an applicant should be granted refugee status, the U.S. admission program does not and should not prioritize one religion over another.
(The criteria, as per the 1951 Refugee Convention, are persecution for reasons of religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group.)
One senior State Department official told lawmakers last month that Christians were underrepresented among U.S. Syria refugee admissions because fewer Christians were leaving – because they feel safe (in some cases because they support the Assad regime).
However, the international Christian charity Barnabas Fund estimates that some 600,000 Syrian Christians have fled their homes so far.
In a recent op-ed in a British daily George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury – the titular head of the world’s Anglicans/Episcopalians – decried the response from Western governments and churches to the targeting of Christians in particular at the hands of ISIS.
“So serious is the problem that you might expect the nations of the West would come to the rescue of these historic Christian communities, or that the Church would be demanding the world act now,” he wrote. “Far from it.”
Carey went on to quote Barnabas Fund’s observation that “[w]hile displaced Muslims may find safety in neighboring areas controlled by their own faction and armed forces, or escape to friendly areas, Christians do not have these options.”
He urged British Prime Minister David Cameron Carey to find ways to admit “a good number of Christian Syrians” among refugees to be allowed to resettle in Britain. Cameron has pledged to welcome up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years.
The Australian government, meanwhile, pledged last September to prioritize among 12,000 Syrian refugees it will take in “those most in need – the women, children and families of persecuted minorities.”
Australian Muslim groups complained, but the government is unrepentant. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton last week reiterated that persecuted minorities will be prioritized, saying that while the U.N. can make referrals Australia will ultimately decide who to accept.
Refugee advocacy groups argue that many Christians who leave Syria do not register with the UNHCR, for fear of their safety in U.N. refugee camps. Since the U.S. and some other governments use UNHCR referrals in the first step in the application process for refugee status, they could end up be unintentionally disadvantaged.
The UNHCR says living in a refugee camp is not a prerequisite for registration with the agency.