Administration Nears Syrian Refugee Goal: 9,077 Muslims; 47 Christians

Patrick Goodenough | August 22, 2016 | 4:16am EDT
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Syrian refugees at Amman airport in Jordan in December 2015. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh, File)

( – With less than six weeks of the fiscal year to go, the Obama administration is speeding towards meeting its target of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States, and is currently fewer than 900 refugees away from the goal.

A total of 9,144 Syrian refugees have now been resettled in FY 2016. Of these, 9,077 are Muslims.

Among the 9,144 refugees, 47 (0.5 percent) are Christians and 14 (0.15 percent) are Yazidis--like Christians, a non-Muslim minority targeted specifically by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) for persecution.

Meanwhile the administration has admitted 8,984 Sunni Muslims – 98.2 percent of the total number admitted this fiscal year – according to State Department Refugee Processing Center data.

The remaining refugees resettled since October 1 last year are 20 Shi’a Muslims, 73 other Muslims, five refugees identified as “other religion,” and one as having “no religion.”

Admissions for August follow a similar pattern:  Of a total of 1,593, 12 (0.75 percent) are Christians, 1,552 (97.4 percent) are Sunnis. Another 23 are other Muslims, four are Yazidis, and two are adherents of “other religion.”

The 12 Christians admitted so far this month comprise four Protestants, four Orthodox, one Catholic, and three refugees described simply as “Christian.”

The denominational breakdown for the 47 Christians admitted in FY 2016 is seven Catholic, six Orthodox, four Protestant, one Greek Orthodox and 29 “Christian” refugees.

Since 2011 millions of Syrians of all religious and ethnic backgrounds have fled the civil war, whose antagonists include ISIS, al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and other Sunni Salafist groups, moderate/nationalist Sunni rebels, Kurds, Shi’a Iran and its Hezbollah ally, other Shi’a militia, and the Assad regime, dominated by the Shi’ite Allawite sect.

Still, the number of Christians among refugees admitted into the U.S. remains disproportionately low, and the number of Sunnis disproportionately high:

--About 10 percent of the Syrian population is Christian, and yet Christians account for just 0.5 percent of refugees admitted to the U.S. in FY 2016, and 0.8 percent of the total admitted since March 2011 (95 out of a total of 11,017).

--Some 74 percent of Syrians are Sunnis – or were when the war began. The proportion of Sunnis among the Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. in is 98.2 percent, and the proportion since March 2011 is 97.1 percent (10,703 out of a total of 11,017).

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR plays an important role in the early stages of applications for refugee status in the United States.

But many Christians and other minorities fleeing Syria have avoided registering with UNHCR, for reasons that include – in the agency’s own admission – “fear that registration might bring retribution from other refugees” in its camps.

Because of this, refugee advocates say Christians and other minorities may be unintentionally disadvantaged in the process of seeking refuge in the United States. (UNHCR says living in a camp is not a prerequisite for refugees to be registered with the agency.)

The Obama administration says it will not prioritize any faith community when considering Syrian refugee applications, despite its own finding that ISIS’ actions against Christians, Yazidis and other minorities in both Syria and Iraq amount to genocide.

U.N. investigators, too, have determined that ISIS is carrying out genocide against the Yazidis.

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