From CNS News
By Patrick Goodenough
With three weeks of the fiscal year to go, the Obama administration has exceeded its Syrian refugee admission target by 15 percent, with 11,491 resettled in the United States as of the beginning of this week.
Since President Obama’s goal of 10,000 Syrian refugee admissions in FY 2016 was achieved on August 29, the number continues to pick up steadily.
August ended with a new monthly record of 3,189 Syrian refugee arrivals, and a further 751 have been ushered in so far in September: 749 Sunni Muslims; two Catholic Christians.
State Department Refugee Processing Center data show that of the now total 11,491 arrivals this fiscal year, the vast majority – 11,300, or 98.33 percent – are Sunnis.
Just 54 of the 11,491 – 0.46 percent – are Christians. They comprise 14 Catholics, six Orthodox, four Protestants, one Greek Orthodox, plus 29 refugees identifying themselves simply as “Christian” rather than by denomination or sect.
The remaining 137 are made of up of 20 Shi’a Muslims, 90 refugees described simply as Muslims, 17 Yazidis, four Jehovah’s Witnesses, five refugees identified as “other religion,” and one as having “no religion.”
Millions of Syrians of all religious persuasions have fled the civil war that has ravaged their country since mid-2011. At the start of the conflict an estimated 74 percent of Syrians were Sunni and an estimated 10 percent were Christians.
Since the civil war began, the U.S. has admitted a total of 13,364 Syrian refugees, of whom 13,019 (97.4 percent) are Sunnis and 102 (0.7 percent) are Christians.
The remainder include Shi’a Muslims (33), other Muslims (150), Yazidis (18), Jehovah’s Witnesses (12), Zoroastrians (6), refugees self-reported as having “no religion” (8), refugees identifying themselves as “other religion” (11), atheists (3) and Baha’i (2).
Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, persecution on the grounds of religion is one of five criteria for determining whether an applicant should be granted refugee status (the others relate to race, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group.)
The administration has asserted that atrocities against Christians, Yazidis, Shi’a and other minorities in areas under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) amount to genocide.
Still, calls on the administration to increase the proportion of Christians and other minorities among the Syrian refugees being welcomed into the country have been met by assertions – from the president, among others – that the U.S. will not impose a “religious test” on applicants.
Obama has yet to announce plans for refugee admissions from Syria for the new fiscal year – although the administration did announce earlier that global admissions would rise from 85,000 in FY 2016 to 100,000 in FY 2017.
He is hosting a leaders’ summit on refugees at the United Nations in New York next Tuesday, on the sidelines of the annual General Assembly opening.
That forum will likely provide the platform for Obama to declare a FY 2017 Syrian refugee admission target; the purpose of the event is to encourage all countries to commit more money and to welcome more refugees next year – with the goal of doubling the total number of admissions worldwide.
A third aim is to encourage frontline states to do more to help refugees already located there, granting millions of refugees the right to work legally and their children the right to attend school.
Currently the U.N. refugee agency has 4.79 million Syrians registered as refugees, with the largest numbers in Turkey (2.7 million), Lebanon (1.03 million), Jordan (656,000) and Iraq (239,000).