Why Aren’t More Christians Among The Syrian Refugees Coming To The United States?
By Kristin Wright, Director of Advocacy at Open Doors USA
Note: This post is the second in a multi-part series on refugees.
As the nation debates whether or not to accept more Syrian and Iraqi refugees through the U.S. refugee resettlement program, some Christians have been asking, “Why aren’t more Christians among the Syrian refugees resettling here?”
Since 2011, refugees resettled in the United States from Syria include some 2,098 Muslims and 53 Christians, according to the Refugee Processing Center.
To some, this may appear to indicate discrimination against Christians in the resettlement program. After all, as Morgan Lee points out in a recent article in Christianity Today, around 18 percent of Syria’s roughly 4 million refugees are Christians. So why have the refugees resettled here only included around 3% Christians?
At Open Doors, we’re seeing a few practical reasons why there aren’t more Syrian Christians coming through the program.
But first, it’s important to note that since 2003, the U.S. has resettled more than 762,000 refugees. 340,000 of these refugees have been Christians, according to statistics from the U.S. State Department. That puts the number of Christian refugees coming into the U.S. at right around 44% of the total number of refugees.
These Christians are coming from countries around the world, including many countries topping the Open Doors World Watch List. This helpful article on Christianity Today breaks down the numbers of Christian refugees coming from each country.
The situation for refugees coming from each area of the world is different, of course, and in the case of Syrian Christians, we know that many felt protected under the Assad regime. As a result, many Christians actually chose to stay in Syria longer than their Muslim neighbors. So it’s likely that we will see higher numbers of Christians coming in as more refugees are processed.
Keep in mind, though: the security processing for refugees is lengthy (often 18 months or more). With many Syrian Christians waiting longer to even embark on this process, Matthew Soerens, US director of church mobilization for World Relief, points out that the majority of Syrian Christians are likely still waiting to be processed.
But here’s something else to consider: I’ve spoken personally with many Syrian Christians who felt called to stay in Syria – in spite of the horrifying danger – to be a light in the darkness and reach out to those who are suffering. I’m proud to know some remarkable pastors and church leaders who, supported by Open Doors, persist in distributing food inside Syria, as well as offering trauma counseling, and providing education and “safe spaces” for children. It’s an incredibly dangerous undertaking, and their courage inspires me.
If the United States continues to accept Syrian refugees, we will likely see greater numbers of Christians coming through the program, alongside refugees of many different backgrounds. After our brothers and sisters have been through so much – in many cases seeking to remain in their countries in spite of the danger – some will ultimately choose to come here. It’s vital that we welcome these vulnerable refugees, showing them Christ’s light, particularly after they have experienced so much darkness.
But in the meantime, let’s work to “strengthen what remains,” supporting Christians who remain inside Syria and in the surrounding countries. They desperately need our support, our prayers, and our encouragement.
You can be a voice for persecuted Christians in Syria and throughout the Middle East by signing our petition for refugees throughout the Middle East, and giving to assist Christians on the ground in these volatile countries (check out our Open Doors gift catalog, providing gifts of practical assistance to help Christians suffering for their faith).
And even as we take crucial security concerns into consideration, let’s show the love of Christ to refugees living within our own communities, whether from Iraq, Syria, or from many other countries around the world.
One of the most profound experiences of my life was working with Burmese refugees in Indianapolis, Indiana, for several years. Burmese refugees account for 96,531 of the Christian refugees resettled here in recent years. Many of these were persecuted believers of the Chin ethnic minority group. These families had seen their homes and churches burned in front of them, in many cases enduring slave labor and even torture. They had lived in refugee camps for years before being allowed to come to the United States through the resettlement program. They were among the most joyful people I have met in my life – profoundly grateful for the chance to start new lives of freedom and provide for their families in a setting free from fear.
What an opportunity we have to encourage and practically assist our persecuted brothers and sisters, whether they are living in a country halfway around the world or right here in our local communities.