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15,479 Syrian Refugees Have Been Admitted This Year – 606% More Than 2015; 98.8% Are Muslims

Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria in Jordan. Credit: Maria Lozano/Aid to the Church in Need.

December 31, 2016

In its last full month in office, the Obama administration has admitted 1,307 more Syrian refugees – pushing the 2016 calendar year total to 15,479, a 606.1 percent increase from the numbers resettled in the U.S. in 2015.

Of the 15,479 Syrian refugees admitted by the end of Thursday:

–15,302 (98.8 percent) are Muslims – 15,134 Sunnis, 29 Shi’a, and 139 other Muslims

–125 (0.8 percent) are Christians – 32 Catholics, 32 Orthodox, five Protestants, four Jehovah’s Witnesses, and 52 refugees described only as “Christian” in State Department Refugee Processing Center data

–43(0.27 percent) are Yazidis

–eight are “other” religion and one is described as having “no religion”

–3,904 (25.2 percent) are males between the ages of 14 and 50

–3,521 (22.7 percent) are females aged 14-50

–7,428 (47.9 percent) are children under 14, of whom 3,824 are boys and 3,604 are girls.

Last year’s intake of Syrian refugees was considerably smaller – 2,192 in total – although the religious ratio was similarly skewed: 2,149 Muslims (98 percent) and 31 Christians (1.4 percent).

The last month of 2016 has seen 1,307 Syrian refugees arrive, of whom 1,278 (97.7 percent) were Muslims, 24 (1.8 percent) were Christians, and five (0.3 percent) were Yazidis.

The administration has determined that atrocities against Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) in areas under its control amount to genocide.

At the same time, however, it has rejected calls by Republican lawmakers and others to prioritize vulnerable religious minorities among refugee applicants. President Obama said that would amount to a “religious test.”

Sunni Muslims do account for a majority of Syria’s population – an estimated 74 percent when the civil war began in early 2011.

Even so, the proportion of Sunnis among the refugees admitted into the U.S. has been much larger than that: 97.7 percent of those resettled in 2016, and 97.15 of the total number of Syrian refugees admitted since the conflict began (17,513 out of 18,026).

On the other hand, Christians comprised some 10 percent of the Syrian population in early 2011, but only account for 0.8 percent of the refugees resettled in 2016; and for just 1.03 percent of the total number of Syrian refugees taken in since the beginning of the civil war (187 out of 18,026).

Organizations aiding Syrian Christians say many of those who have left the country avoid camps run by the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR for fear of their safety, and seek shelter instead with churches, Christian charities or relatives in surrounding countries.

Since the U.S. relies on UNHCR referrals at the early stage of processing refugee status applications, Christians as a result are underrepresented.

The UNHCR has acknowledged that minorities “fear that registration might bring retribution from other refugees” in the camps, although it also says living in a camp is not a requirement for refugees to be registered with the agency.