Elliott Abrams

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Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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The United States Bars Christian, Not Muslim, Refugees From Syria

by Elliott Abrams
September 9, 2016


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 web site 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.


Post a Comment 12 Comments

  • Posted by Michael Liberatore

    I agree with Senator Tom Cotton. Christians fleeing Syria are persecuted more than any other group!

  • Posted by Natalie

    Hard to believe this isn’t an intentional “oversight.”

  • Posted by Hal McCombs

    Kind of makes you wonder about Obama’s real religion, doesn’t it?

  • Posted by Peter

    Spot on (i.e. depressingly acute) as usual.

  • Posted by Gail

    It has long bothered me that Christian Syrians are excluded from refugee status because we put impossible barriers up for them. The persecution is real and our failure to find solutions is ignoring a modern holocaust. Failing to seek out Syrian Christian refugees makes us complicit in their demise. When WWII ended, we didn’t demand that Jews encamp with their Nazi tormentors to receive refugee status. Why do we require this of Syrian Christians?

  • Posted by Meee

    Actually, Gail, Jews did have to stay in Germany, though many fled illegally. In fact, they were moved there from camps in neighboring countries (Germany set up most concentration camps in Eastern Europe) because the allies had control over Germany and the rest of Europe had been returned to their self-appointed governments. In fact, all my wife’s family spent years in displaced persons camps in Germany, waiting for permission to resettle, which came only after Israel received independence. One side of the family had escaped and tried to get to Israel before independence but the British captured their ship, jailed them in Cyprus, and then sent them back to Germany.

    Now, none of what I said should be interpreted as a reason to repeat that historical injustice, and I support prioritizing emigration of the biggest victims of the current wars, the Christian and other minorities. But I am simply pointing out a bit of forgotten history.The Muslims are safe once in a refugee camp, and emigrate because life in the west is obviously better than in a refugee camp, but the minorities like the Christians are threatened even within those camps

  • Posted by Richard Bell

    My Syrian Christian informants have told me that nearly all Christian refugees in Jordan live with their friends and relatives, not in the camps. These Christian refugees are relatively comfortable and tend not to demand evacuation to the United States.

  • Posted by Mike

    Barack Obama is a Christianphobe! He has proven it over and over, this is just another example.

  • Posted by William Salter

    This post is nothing but a hatchet job on the Obama Administration but I wouldn’t expect anything less from Elliot Abrams, a rabid neo-con, quoting Tom Cotton, the Senator who who sought to interfere with the Constitutional responsibilities of the executive branch.

  • Posted by Michelle

    This information changes everything. Changes in the current refugee programs must happen. We simply can’t continue in good faith in the same direction.

  • Posted by Nathan

    Could we get a little more specificity about these numbers? Over what time period were 10,801 Syrian refugees accepted into the U.S., with only 56 being Christian? The premise of this article rests on these unsourced numbers. There is the BBC link citing 10% of 22 million Syrians being Christian, but I’d just like to know where the data was collected. Pres. Trump has pointed to this particular issue, and I’m also wondering where he learned about this disparity.

    Trying to understand what’s going on, since other sites are now pointing to this article to provide context for the immigration EO. Where is the data?

  • Posted by Martha

    Factcheck (which I’m sure many commenters will completely disregard) has some info on this. Basically no evidence that Syrian Christians (or those from other countries) are being discriminated against. The UN also recognizes that they are often not in the camps, and has mobile units to do outreach and register refugees not in camps, whether Muslim to Christian. And the office that processes the Syrian refugees also processes Iraqi refugees-and we let in a large number of Iraqi christians. So they discriminate against a Christian refugees from une country but not another? Need some more hard evidence besides percentages with no context. http://www.factcheck.org/2017/01/christian-refugees-unfairly-kept-out-of-u-s/

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