On January 27, 2017, US President Donald Trump gave an interview to the Christian Broadcasting Network in which he said that he intended to prioritize Christians seeking refugee status in the United States.
Trump told CBN Syrian Christians had not been treated fairly,
They’ve been horribly treated. Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough to get into the United States? If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible and the reason that was so unfair — everybody was persecuted, in all fairness — but they were chopping off the heads of everybody but more so the Christians. And I thought it was very, very unfair. So we are going to help them.
There were two equally odd reactions to this claim.
On the right, there are delusional folks who think that the Obama administration had an outright ban on Christians seeking refugee status. This is, of course, a lie. Pew Research data suggests that more Christians and people of other religious faiths were admitted as refugees during Obama’s administration, although the number of Muslims admitted has increased as the situation in the Middle East has deteriorated.
The United States regularly admits thousands of Christians refugees, largely from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burma.
On the left, however, some individuals have claimed that since large numbers of Christians do enter the US as refugees each year, that this means Trump is wrong when he said that it is “impossible, at least very tough” for Syrian Christians to become US refugees. But the two statement are not mutually exclusive.
As Pew also noted, very few Syrian refugees are Christians.
The administration set the goal of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. in the fiscal year. This goal was exceeded, and refugee status was given to 12,587 Syrians. Nearly all of them (99%) were Muslim and less than 1% were Christian. As a point of comparison, Pew Research Center estimated Syria’s religious composition to be 93% Muslim and 5% Christian in 2010.
In an opinion pieces, Elliott Abrams claimed that only 56 Syrian refugees accepted by the United States had been Christians, though it is unclear where this figure came from.
So why so few Christian refugees from Syria?
The United States considers Syrian refugees who are referred to it by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. But some observers of the situation believe that Syrian Christians are not willing to go to the UNHCR refugee camps which are predominantly Muslim and where they may face further repression.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) introduced legislation in 2016 that would allow Syrian Christians to apply directly to the United States for refugee status, rather than having to go through the UNHCR.
That approach would make a lot more sense than Trump’s approach of essentially penalizing Muslim refugees for the failings of the UNHCR. As would calmly examining the facts instead of knee jerk, uninformed responses.