By Patrick Goodenough | February 1, 2016 | 4:17 AM EST
Thousands of Syrians fleeing the war walk across a border crossing between Syria and Iraq’s Dohuk governorate. (Photo: UNHCR/G.Gubaeva)
(CNSNews.com) – Five hundred and fifty Syrian refugees have been admitted into the United States since the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) carried out terrorist attacks in Paris last November, and of those, two (0.3 percent) are Christians.
Over the past week, another 24 Syrian refugees have been admitted, including one male Orthodox Christian.
The religious breakdown of the 550 is 534 Sunni Muslims, three Shi’ites, ten others identified in State Department Refugee Processing Center data as simply “Moslems,” one Orthodox Christian, one Greek Orthodox Christian, and one refugee identified as “other religion.”
The two Christians are both male, as is the refugee identified as “other religion.” Of the 534 Sunnis, 275 (51.4 percent) are male, 259 (48.5 percent) female. Two of the three Shi’ites are male, as are seven of the ten “Moslems.”
The Obama administration plans to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. during fiscal year 2016, which began on October 1, 2015.
So far in FY2016, 841 have been admitted, of whom seven (0.8 percent) are Christians and one is “other religion.” The rest comprise 820 Sunnis (97.5 percent), three Shi’ites (0.3 percent) and 10 “Moslems” (1.2 percent).
Since the March 2011 eruption of anti-government protests and violent regime crackdown that led to the civil war, the U.S. has admitted a total of 2,714 Syrian refugees. Of those, 55 (2.0 percent) are Christians and 2,539 (93.5 percent) are Sunni Muslims.
The rest are “Moslems” (70), Shi’ites (16), Jehovah’s Witnesses (8), Zoroastrians (6), Baha’i (2), Yazidi (1), other religion (7), no religion (7) and atheists (3).
The ISIS attacks on November 13, in which 130 people were killed, raised concerns about the possibility of ISIS using refugee admission programs to infiltrate terrorists into Western countries.
Six weeks after the attack, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve confirmed that two of the attackers had been carrying fake Syrian passports and warned other European Union member-states that “some terrorists are trying to get into our countries and commit criminal acts by mixing in with the flow of migrants and refugees.”
Reporting by ABC News that two Iraqi refugees resettled in Kentucky were later found to have al-Qaeda links fueled concerns, as did the arrest earlier this month of two Iraqi-born refugees in the U.S. indicted on terror-related charges.
The Obama administration says Syrian applicants for refugee status undergo a lengthy and particularly rigorous vetting process.
The relatively small proportion of Christians among the Syrian refugees admitted into the U.S. so far – 0.3 percent since the Paris attack, 0.8 percent in FY2016, and 2.0 percent since the Syrian civil war began – has raised eyebrows.
When the conflict began in 2011 Christians accounted for approximately 10 percent of the Syrian population.
A European Parliament resolution last October stated that ISIS is “targeting” Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities and that more than 700,000 Syrian Christians have fled the country.
A senior State Department official said on Capitol Hill last month that Christians were underrepresented among Syrian refugee admissions because small numbers of Christians were leaving, because they feel safe.
As reported earlier, some Christians fleeting Syria fear for their safety in U.N.-run refugee camps in the countries surrounding Syria and so avoid them, sheltering instead with relatives or other co-religionists.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is involved in the early stages of applications for refugee status in the U.S., says refugees do not need to stay in a refugee camp in order to be registered with the agency.