A U.N. refugee camp for Syrians in northern Jordan. (Photo: UNHCR/A.McDonnell)
(CNSNews.com) – The administration admitted a total of 12,587 Syrian refugees during the just-ended fiscal year, exceeding the target President Obama declared last fall by 2,587 (20.5 percent).
Of the 12,587, the vast majority are Sunni Muslims – 12,363 (98.2 percent) – while another 103 are identified in State Department Refugee Processing Center data simply as Muslims and a further 20 as Shi’a Muslims.
Sixty-eight of the 12,587 Syrian refugees (0.5 percent) are Christians. They comprise 16 Catholics, eight Orthodox, five Protestants, four Jehovah’s Witnesses, one Greek Orthodox, and 34 refugees self-identified simply as Christians.
The remainder of the Syrian refugees resettled in the U.S. in FY 2016 are 24 Yazidis, eight refugees with religion given as “other,” and one with “no religion.”
The final month of the fiscal year followed the pattern of previous ones: 1,847 Syrian refugees were admitted, of whom 1,812 were Sunnis, 13 were other Muslims, 12 were Christians, seven were Yazidis, and three were “other” religion.
Throughout the year, the numbers of Christians and other religious minorities among the Syrians granted refugee status in the U.S. were dwarfed by those of Sunni Muslims.
Although the majority of Syrians are Sunnis, the number of Sunnis among the refugees was still disproportionately high, and the number of Christians disproportionately low, when compared to the overall population makeup.
When the conflict began in 2011, an estimated 10 percent of the Syrian population (1.5-1.7 million) was Christian and 74 percent was Sunni Muslim.
In contrast, Christians accounted for just half of one percent of the refugees resettled in the United States in FY 2016, while Sunnis accounted for 98.2 percent.
All segments of the Syrian population are affected by the devastating civil war, which has witnessed grave atrocities by minorities waged by the Sunni jihadists as well as sectarian-fueled bloodshed involving Sunnis, Shi’a (including Iranian and Hezbollah elements) and adherents of President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect.
The United Nations reports that 4,806,702 million Syrians are registered as “persons of concern” in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and North Africa. It does not give a denominational breakdown.
Estimates of the number of Christians who have fled their homeland vary, but the European Parliament this year said at least 700,000 had done so, while a Chaldean Catholic bishop from Aleppo last March put the figure at at least one million.
The U.S. government administration has determined that atrocities carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) against religious minorities in areas under its amount to genocide.
Administration officials say, however, that its refugee program does not and will not prioritize any particular religious group when considering Syrians’ applications.
Obama has not declared a target figure for Syrian refugee admissions for FY 2017, although a recent report to Congress said the administration “aims to admit a significantly higher number” of Syrian refugees in the new fiscal year than the 10,000 target initially set for FY 2016.
Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richard said last week that even though the department is working with a stipulated target for FY 2017, “this administration has been very clear that we want to bring more Syrians, so my own guidance to our staff is that we want to bring even more than we brought this year.”
Over the course of the conflict that began when small anti-government protests in early 2011 were met with a harsh crackdown by the Assad regime and later widened into a convoluted civil war, the U.S. has resettled a total of 14,460 Syrian refugees – 87 percent of them during FY 2016.
Of those 14,460, 14,082 (97.3 percent) are Sunnis, 196 (1.3 percent) are Shi’a and other Muslims, and 124 (0.8 percent) are Christians.
The rest are 25 Yazidis, six Zoroastrians, three atheists, two Baha’i, 14 refugees with “other” religion and eight with “no religion.”