Foreign Policy Blogs

Where are the Syrian Christian Refugees?

Syrian refugees wait for mattresses, blankets and other supplies, and to be assigned to tents at the Zaatari Syrian refugees camp in Mafraq, near the Syrian border with Jordan.

Syrian refugees wait for mattresses, blankets and other supplies before being assigned to tents at the Zaatari Syrian refugees camp in Mafraq, near the Syrian border with Jordan. (AP)

Are Syrian refugees a threat to the security of the United States? In the wake of the deadly San Bernardino shootings, most Americans are on edge and many are reluctant to let in any more Muslims, especially Syrian refugees. Republican presidential candidates have picked up on this fear and the rhetoric is flyingBen Carson compared them to “rabid dogs,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie refuses to accept any “orphans under the age of 5,” and Presidential front-runner Donald Trump recently declared his plan to ban all Syrian refugees from entering the U.S. Both Carson and Trump even claim to have seen Muslims celebrating the fall of the World Trade Center on 9/11.

But the paranoia doesn’t stop theremore than half of state governors across the U.S. vowed not to take in any Syrian refugees. And last month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to ban all Syrian (and Iraqi) refugees from entering the U.S. until more secure screening measures can be implemented.

Of course in the months leading up to the presidential elections, candidates are prone to making simplistic one-liners to cater to their constituency and advance their ratings in the polls. In reality, the problem of refugees for any country is quite complexare the refugees fleeing political persecution or pursuing greater economic opportunity? How do we go about determining their motives and effectively screening claimants? Once refugees flee political persecution and land in a “safe” country, if they choose to forgo low-paying jobs in this safe country and immigrate to another country with better-paying jobs, are they then reclassified as economic immigrants? If we accept some from one religion, are we discriminating against other religions?

Since the November 12–13 attacks in Beirut and Paris, debate over immigration policy in many countries has intensified. In the U.S., the Obama administration revealed a plan to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year. Australia has agreed to take in 12,000 Syrian refugees after careful screening, a process authorities say could take up to a year. In Canada, authorities are busy screening around 100 people per day to reach an ambitious target of 25,000 by the end of year.

In Europe, Germany is struggling to deal with 180,000 refugees who have entered the country since the beginning of November. Each of these countries is toiling with the question of which refugees to acceptmothers and their children, the elderly, or young single males? Will Muslims, Christians, Jews, Yazidis, Druze, Bahá’ís, or Zoroastrians be accepted and in what numbers?

Since the brutal crackdown of a popular uprising in Syria by President Bashar al-Assad, the U.S. has accepted around 1,900 Syrians flown in by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Out of the 1,900 Syrian refugees living in the U.S., the vast majority are Sunni Muslim, with only 53 Syrian Christians, one Yazidi, and a handful of Druze, Bahá’ís and Zoroastrians.

This disparity is due in part to the way in which the refugees are selected, according to Nina Shea, director of Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and a former commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. In a recent article for the National Review, Shea argues that the Syrian Christians in refugee camps face a wide range of discrimination and danger, including kidnapping and death. The U.S. relies upon the UNHCR for the vetting of refugees, and the UNHCR largely selects refugees for relocation and settlement from the rolls of the refugee camps. Most of the Syrian Christians have fled the refugee camps in fear, many traversing to Lebanon.

The process by which refugees are vetted by the U.S. needs to change to target those also outside of refugee camps, in order to allow the vetting of more persecuted religious minorities from Syria. U.S. presidential candidates, all of whom profess a strong belief in Christ and the teachings of Christianity, should have no hesitancy in accepting fellow Christians from Syriathose “rabid dogs” and orphans who have been persecuted halfway around the world.

American Christians should also welcome with open arms Syrian Christians and help them with the daunting task of resettling and adjusting to life in the U.S. Before the war, Christians in Syria numbered over 2 million and there were around 80,000 Yazidis, both groups having been subjected to abduction, sexual enslavement, forcible conversion to Islam, or beheading. Is it unrealistic to assume 10,000 acceptable refugees from these populations can be found and relocated?

Given the inflammatory rhetoric of American presidential candidates, the cautious posturing of U.S. lawmakers, and the paranoia of a fearful American population, the unfortunate truth is that choosing 10,000 Christians for immediate vetting may be the only way to quickly accept and settle any Syrian refugees in the coming months. Canada, citing security concerns, has chosen to accept only women, children and families, and refuse young, single men. Even under this conservative plan, more than half of Canadians oppose their resettlement.

Putting Christians on a fast-track vetting process would go some way toward reversing the discrimination already in placeto date, Syrian Christians have been allotted only 3% of the spaces for refugees in the U.S. despite comprising 10% of the Syrian population. While Syrian Muslims would continue to be subject to a more thorough and stringent security screening, Syrian Christians should be fast-tracked into the U.S. using appropriate screening methods to weed out imposters. Hopefully in the near future, these discriminatory screening policies can converge, and Americans can come to accept greater numbers of innocent refugees regardless of their faith. 


  • RRDJR513

    Spin it the way you like, We say NO, enough of this folly. It is time the Arab nations fixed their own problem of tyranny vs cowardice.

    It appears there is enough weaponry in the hands of the general population to stem the tide of this “so called” minority of the Muslim Faith.

    Skeptics, like me, are suspicious that this “refuge” crisis is a ruse for a World invasion to proselytize this very violent and tyrannical religion!

  • RB

    The old government in Canada, the Conservatives as they are named, had a program from over a year ago to take in 10,000 refugees from Syria. They focused on Christians, Yazidi, Kurds and other small groups. Many of these were privately sponsored by the Armenian community and Orthodox church groups in Canada. Now many of them are arriving, but under the new Canadian government, they stated that they will no longer focus on these minorities and will bring in whatever groups they find in the UN refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Referring to the study you site from Canada, the new Canadian government recently elected was pushing to bring in 10,000 Syrian refugees in under a month. This failed a few weeks ago because it was irresponsible and quite frankly impossible. The rapid policy implementation is what soured Canadians to bringing in refugees, for security and logistical reasons…not having Syrians come here themselves. Sponsored refugees have been coming in these last two weeks infact, but the issue of them being muslim or Christian has not been a great factor yet as most of these are Syrian Orthodox members sponsored by that community. A lack of discussion in the difference between Syrians was not taken up in Canada, and mostly government officials have been using them as photo ops, while not giving time and space for them to settle due to the quick timeline of bringing them into Canada. A lot of the rapid push to bring in Syrians is political, and is a lose-lose for both refugees and Canadians when done so quickly with no foresight into their accommodations in Canada or feelings of average Canadians. A lot of it has to do with a new government that tends to run before opening its eyes to see where it will end up. That is the fault of the new government, Canadians mostly have no issue with refugees if they are in need and are vetted for security…the poll was taken when these concerns were being ignored by the government….that new government also stopped going for the most vulnerable, in that Yazidi, Christians and Kurds are no longer a priority..hopefully the US will take in these families as in Canada this seems to no longer be the case, the most vulnerable seem to have become political fodder for gross politicians.

  • RB

    Sorry, correction..the new Canadian government originally wanted to bring 25,000 Syrians in before Christmas, now they say they will bring 10,000 before Jan 1 2015, mostly those who were already in process and sponsored, many Armenian, from a year or two ago….they also said the other 15,000 will be in Canada by Feb 2016…and they doubled down to say they will bring in 25,000 more after that… 50,000 committed to this far….

  • qawii3 .

    “To date, Syrian Christians have been allotted only 3% of
    the spaces for refugees in the U.S. despite comprising 10% of the Syrian
    quoted from the above.
    SO WHO ARE THE LIBERAL BIGOTS IN WASHINGTON, OTTAWA ,ETC. WHO CONTINUE TO BRAG OF THEIR “LIBERAL” PRINCIPLES WHILE REFUSING TO RECOGNIZE JUST HOW OBVIOUS THEIR BIGOTRY IS TO THE REST OF US. Let’s face it: 1) Liberals hate Christians 2) Obama (Hussein) is showing us who/what he truly is.Christians share the traditional values of the USA & of Canada; they do not scream “down with democracy!” or anything of the like, whereas Islamic demonstrators are known to do so world-wide. So, in Canada, we just invited 25,000 potential such demonstrators to our shores. You are not quite as dumb in the US … but you’re getting close.


Gary Sands
Gary Sands

Gary Sands is a Senior Analyst at Wikistrat, a crowdsourced consultancy, and a Director at Highway West Capital Advisors, a venture capital, project finance and political risk advisory. He has contributed a number of op-eds for Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek, Washington Times, The Diplomat, The National Interest, International Policy Digest, Asia Times, EurasiaNet, Eurasia Review, Indo-Pacific Review, the South China Morning Post, and the Global Times. He was previously employed in lending and advisory roles at Shell Capital, ABB Structured Finance, and the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation. He earned his Masters of Business Administration in International Business from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and a Bachelor of Science in Finance at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut. He spent six years in Shanghai from 2006-2012, four years in Rio de Janeiro, and is currently based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. [email protected]