Open the Door to Christian Refugees From Syria

Terry Jeffrey
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Posted: Apr 27, 2016 12:01 AM
Open the Door to Christian Refugees From Syria
"Today, Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world."

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said that on the Senate floor March 17 after he explained what had happened six months before to a Syrian man and his 12-year-old son.

"This boy was a Christian and standing above him were Islamic State terrorists holding knives," said Cotton.

"In the crowd was the boy's father, a Christian minister," he said. "Methodically, the terrorists began cutting off the young boy's fingers. Amidst his screams, they turned to the minister, his father. If he renounced his faith and in their terms 'returned to Islam,' the boy's suffering would stop."

The incident ended when the Islamic State murdered both father and son.

"They did so by crucifixion," Cotton told the Senate.

"In the time of Christ," Cotton said, "the cross was not just a means of execution but a brutal public warning to all. Because of Christ's suffering, the cross was transformed into a revered symbol of His sacrifice and promise of salvation, but today it is clear ISIS seeks to turn the cross once again into a message of dread."

Three weeks before Cotton spoke these words, Secretary of State John Kerry had testified in a House subcommittee that he needed to see an "additional evaluation" before he could decide if the Islamic State was committing genocide.

Then, on the same day Cotton gave his speech, Kerry met a congressionally imposed deadline by declaring that the Islamic State, which he called "Daesh," was committing genocide against Syrian Christians and other minorities.

Yet, even as they face genocide at the hands of the Islamic State, very few Syrian Christians are being admitted as refugees to the United States.

As Patrick Goodenough has reported in a series of stories for CNSNews.com, their number has not been in proportion to their representation in the Syrian population.

The State Department maintains a database that reports the national origin and demographics of refugees admitted to this country.

Between March 17, when Kerry declared that "Daesh" was committing genocide, and April 27, the United States admitted 489 refugees from Syria, according this database. 464 were Sunni Muslims, 14 were Shiite Muslims, 10 were Yazidis and only 1 was a Christian.

Since Oct. 1, 2014 (the beginning of fiscal 2015), the United States has admitted 3,312 refugees from Syria. Just 38 were Christians. But 3,147 were Sunnis. That equals about 1.1 percent Christian and 95 percent Sunni.

The Syrian population, according to the CIA World Factbook, is 10 percent Christian and 74 percent Sunni.

In his March 17 speech, Cotton addressed the scarcity of Christians among the Syrian refugees being admitted to the United States.

"There are a number of factors," Cotton said. "Perhaps chief among them is that the United States, for all intents and purposes, relies exclusively on the U.N. refugee agency to identify candidates for resettlement."

"According to the State Department, less than 1 percent of the thousands of Syrian refugees referred by the U.N. to the United States are religious minorities," he said.

"Let me stress," Cotton said on the Senate floor, "that his underrepresentation is not the result of intentional discrimination."

In 2013, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom published a factsheet on the already unfolding Syrian refugee crisis.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees "told USCIRF that Christians and Alawites reportedly are not registering with their organization because they fear negative repercussions from Sunni refugees identifying them with the regime," said the factsheet. "They reportedly also fear that if Bashar Al-Assad remains in power and they return to Syria, the Syrian government will view them as disloyal for having sought safe haven in a neighboring country."

Cotton has offered the "Religious Persecution Relief Act" to help fix this problem. It would permit up to 10,000 Christians and members of other religious minorities in Syria to be admitted to the United States as refugees each year for the next five years. These refugees could apply through U.S.-backed resettlement centers and would not need to go through the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. But they would go through the same security vetting as other refugees from Syria.

The House of Representatives voted unanimously last month to declare that the Islamic State is committing genocide against Christians and other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq. Secretary of State John Kerry had no choice but to concur.

Will they now find no way to allow Middle Eastern Christians fleeing that genocide to find refuge in our land?