Two months after the Obama administration called out militant terror group Islamic State (ISIS) for committing genocide against Christians in Iraq and Syria, refugee data show those finding a safe haven in the United States are not the ones suffering the most persecution.
Last year, President Barack Obama set the goal of bringing 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States in fiscal year 2016. So far, the State Department is on track to fall well short of that number, with only about 2,700 successfully resettled. State Department figures show 499 Syrian refugees have resettled in America this month, but not a single one was a Christian or member of another religious minority group targeted for genocide, according to CNSNews reports.
“For me, that has got to change,” said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., at a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on May 26. “I mean that is unconscionable.”
Of the 2,705 Syrian refugees who came to the United States this fiscal year, 97 percent are Sunni Muslims. Only 12 identified with a form of Christianity, either Catholic, Greek Orthodox or Protestant, along with 10 Yazidi refugees.
Tempers flared during the hearing yesterday as lawmakers noted the disproportionate numbers. Some compared the crisis in Iraq and Syria to Jewish persecution during the holocaust.
“We have innocent people in the hundreds of thousands – if not millions – who are in jeopardy of being slaughtered in the same way the Jews were slaughtered in the holocaust,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. “This is wrong, this is absolutely wrong. This is like sending the Jews back and saying we’re going to have a more open policy with the Nazis but the Jews aren’t going to be able to come in.”
Photo by Seth Brown
Earlier this year, religious liberty advocates urged the State Department to recognize the atrocities against Christians and other minority faith groups in Iraq and Syria. The Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians compiled a 278-page report detailing acts of violence and targeting of minority groups in the region.
One week later, on March 17, Secretary of State John Kerry agreed with the report and issued a genocide declaration, only the second time in American history an administration has declared genocide amid ongoing conflict.
But advocates say the State Department needs to ramp up aid for Christians and others trying to escape persecution.
“The world’s greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II is unfolding now in the Middle East. In addition to millions of refugees, many of the region’s indigenous communities now face extinction,” said Carl Anderson, Knights of Columbus CEO. “American policy should recognize the important differences in the situations of those fleeing violence and those targeted for genocide. And we should prioritize the latter.”
According to Anderson, the Christian population in Iraq has dropped more than 80 percent, with 70 percent fewer Christians in Syria since ISIS rose to power. The Islamic militants have driven millions of Christians and other faith minorities out of their communities and murdered thousands because of their faith.
Smith said it’s important not to have a religious test or discriminate against refugees trying come to the U.S. but insisted current figures are inexcusable and those targeted for genocide need to have priority.
He criticized the Obama administration for conflating strategies of taking down terrorists and helping civilians in distress. Smith said the United States needs more effective monitoring and response systems for those targeted for genocide in the Middle East.
“For years, the administration has been unwilling to effectively address the slaughters in Syria and Iraq,” Smith said. “If it still thinks it has no obligation to act, it will likely continue its policy of acting too little, too late.”