The title of this blog post–The United States Bars Christian, Not Muslim, Refugees From Syria–will strike many readers as ridiculous.
But the numbers tell a different story:
The United States has accepted 10,801 Syrian refugees, of whom 56 are Christian
. Not 56 percent; 56 total, out of 10,801.
That is to say, one-half of one percent. The BBC says that ten percent of all Syrians are Christian, which would mean 2.2 million Christians. It is quite obvious, and President Obama and Secretary Kerry have acknowledged it, that Middle Eastern Christians are an especially persecuted group.
So how is it that one-half of one percent of the Syrian refugees we’ve admitted are Christian, or 56, instead of about 1,000 out of 10,801–or far more, given that they certainly meet the legal definition
? The definition: someone who “is located outside of the United States; Is of special humanitarian concern to the United States; Demonstrates that they were persecuted or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.” Somewhere between a half million and a million Syrian Christians have fled Syria, and the United States has accepted 56. Why?
“This is de facto discrimination and a gross injustice,” Nina Shea
, who is director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, told Fox News. Fox notes another theory: that the United States takes refugee referrals from the UN refugee camps in Jordan and there are no Christians there. Here’s the Fox excerpt:
Experts say another reason for the lack of Christians in the make-up of the refugees is the make-up of the camps. Christians in the main United Nations refugee camp in Jordan are subject to persecution, they say, and so flee the camps, meaning they are not included in the refugees referred to the U.S. by the U.N.
“The Christians don’t reside in those camps because it is too dangerous,” Shea said. “They are preyed upon by other residents from the Sunni community and there is infiltration by ISIS and criminal gangs.”
“They are raped, abducted into slavery and they are abducted for ransom. It is extremely dangerous, there is not a single Christian in the Jordanian camps for Syrian refugees,” Shea said.
The solution would be to allow Christians, and other religious minorities, to apply directly for refugee status–not through the UN. Senator Tom Cotton has introduced legislation doing just that. As his website explains,
Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) today [March 17, 2016] introduced the Religious Persecution Relief Act, legislation that would grant religious minorities fleeing persecution at the hands of ISIS and other groups in Syria priority status so they can apply directly to the U.S. resettlement program. The bill will also set aside 10,000 resettlement slots annually that must be devoted to Syrian religious minorities. Overall, the bill will allow Syrian religious minorities, who fear registration with the U.N. refugee agency, to circumvent the U.N. process and it will fast-track the U.S. review process that confirms they are victims of genocide and persecution.
Is the title of this blog an overstatement, suggesting that the United States “bars” Christian refugees from Syria? Sure, in that we do not and could not legally ban Christian refugees any more than we could or should bar Muslim refugees. But when you have been running a refugee program for years, and you have accepted 10,612 Sunni refugees and 56 Christians, and it is obvious why and obvious how to fix it, and nothing is done to fix it, well, the results speak more loudly than speeches, laws, intentions, or excuses. In effect, we make it almost impossible for Christian refugees to get here.
So I’ll stick with that title. And I agree with Nina Shea: “This is de facto discrimination and a gross injustice.” Hats off to Senator Cotton for seeing it for what it is, and suggesting a viable solution. His bill would bring this shameful practice to an end and save the lives of many Syrian Christians.
Elliot Abrams is a former diplomat who served during the administrations of presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. This article first appeared at the Council on Foreign Relations.