Vol I No. 7

Why have so few Middle East Christians been accepted as refugees?

by sinetortus


It is a startling fact that not a single Christian has been accepted by the United Kingdom among the 1,112 refugees from Syria resettled in the country in the first three months of 2018. This prompts some wider questions and reflections . But in regard to this particular statistic, it seems that just four Christians were even put forward by United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) for consideration by the UK where in the end only Muslims were accepted.

This data only emerged after it was sought under the Freedom of Information Act in response to specific questions raised by the Barnabas Fund in the UK. However it took fairly extreme pressure on the UK Home Office to obtain the data at all,   as the information was only provided upon obtaining an actual order from the Information Commissioner’s Office threatening the Home Office with contempt of court proceedings in the High Court.

The Fund had previously reported regarding the previous year that “of the 7,060 Syrian refugees the UNHCR recommended to the UK in 2017 only 25 were Christians (0.35 per cent)” and that the UK Home Office then only accepted eleven of these entailing that “Christians made up only 0.23 per cent of Syrian refugees resettled in the UK last year.”

This situation prevails despite the fact that, “It is widely accepted that Christians, who constituted around 10 per cent of Syria’s pre-war population, were specifically targeted by jihadi rebels and continue to be at risk.”

Yet the data when it was finally obtained has revealed “a pattern of underrepresentation and significant prima facie evidence of discrimination that the government has a legal duty to take concrete steps to address.”

It is estimated that half a million Syrians have been killed and 6.1 million have been internally displaced, according to the United Nations.

The UK Home Office,  when confronted by the data, issued a statement which implicitly recognised a systemic problem by saying that,  “The vulnerable person resettlement scheme prioritises the most vulnerable refugees who have fled the Syrian conflict, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity” and that, “We are working with the UNHCR and other partners to reach groups that might be reluctant to register for the scheme for fear of discrimination and unaware of the options available to them.”



Meanwhile in the United States it has been reported that the U.S. government has resettled only 10 Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria since the beginning of 2018 which represents something of a slowdown in refugee admissions from the already modest levels previously prevailing.

Kathryn Freeman, the director of public policy for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, suggested that U.S. government has all but abandoned Middle East Christians looking to escape persecution in the Middle East, saying that, “These persecuted Christians have almost been entirely shut out in the past six months, during which time just 21 Christians from the (entire) Middle East have been admitted to the U.S. as refugees.”

Analysis of data from the Refugee Processing Center database’s numbers on refugee arrivals between Jan. 1 and June 19 shows that eight of those Christians who were resettled to the U.S. were from Afghanistan, two from Iran, seven from Iraq, three from Syria and one from Saudi Arabia.  A total of 48 Christians have been resettled from the Middle East since the beginning of fiscal year 2018 — Oct. 1, 2017. Nineteen of those 48 refugees have come from Iraq or Syria. Meanwhile the number of Muslims being admitted to the U.S. has also declined, albeit from a higher base, as only 468 Muslims were resettled to the U.S. from the Middle East since Jan. 1.

The Obama administration was much criticized for resettling more Muslims from the Middle East than Christians, and the Refugee Processing Center database shows that in total his administration resettled a total of 1,315 Christians from the Middle East from Jan. 1, 2016 until June 19, 2016.

However, looked at more widely, The United States is accepting an increasingly large share of Christian refugees, but they are coming primarily from Africa. With three-quarters of the fiscal year over, and amid massive cuts to the U.S. refugee program, nearly 68 percent of arriving refugees this fiscal year are Christian — which represents a 16-year high, according to State Department statistics. Prior to this year, the highest proportion was in fiscal 2007, at 60 percent.

Of the 16,229 refugees admitted from Oct. 1 to June 28, 10,949 were Christians – primarily from Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Ukraine, and Burma.

Forecasts suggest that the U.S. is likely to resettle less than 22,000 refugees during the fiscal year of 2018 overall, which would fall well short of the 45,000 refugee cap set by President Trump at the beginning of the year which figure is itself lower than any refugee cap set since 1980.


The mechanics of processing refugees

are important to understanding the statistics

Processing refugees for resettlement in the United States involves several steps with the first being that they have to be referenced by the United Nations.

This is why their being registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is so important as it is this step that allows them to be defined legally as refugees and the fact is that                                                                                                                                                                                           most Syrian Christians have not registered.

More Iraqis registered once they traveled to Jordan so as to join families in the West. (Christians once formed some 10 percent of Iraq’s population; most have left since 1991, settling in                                                                                                 Australia and New Zealand etc as well  as in North America.)

It is also important to note the perspective articulated by  Patriarch Louis Raphael I of the Chaldean Catholic Church — Iraq’s largest — who has been extremely cautious about any attempt to single out Christians for refugee status and that any preferential treatment based on religion ironically ends up providing fuel for  the kind of arguments used by those who propagate “attack native Christian communities of the Middle East as ‘foreign bodies’” or as groups that are “supported and defended by Western powers.” Such actions can thus help  “create and feed tensions with our Muslim fellow citizens. Those who seek help do not need to be divided according to religious labels.”


In a separate development,  that reflects the sentiment of doubt in the current White House about the United Nations , the Vice President,  Mike Pence has declared a major policy change in which the U.S. government will bypass the United Nations and provide direct humanitarian assistance to persecuted Christians and other religious minorities that faced genocide at the hands of the Islamic State, though just how easy it will be to implement this change remains to be seen,


A very brief overview of the situation

for Christians in Syria and Iraq



Christians once made up 10 percent of the population. For the most part they belonged to the middle to upper classes and were predominantly urban based and well educated, often speaking several languages with friends and family members widely dispersed in Europe and the Americas.

Since 2011, those Christians living in areas of conflict mostly fled to government held areas in Syria, such as Damascus and have tried to remain near their homes, properties and businesses. It is this context and a long  history of state protection that has meant that support for the regime among Christians is high. Nonetheless, of those who have fled Syria (now thought to be half of the community) mostly went to Armenia, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey with Lebanon being the most popular destination – a country where the churches offer strong social services in a location with reasonable proximity and a common culture and history.

One very important puzzle is just why such a relatively small proportion have registered with the UNHCR or other agencies , and thus why so few are making it over to the west.?

What is clear is that by far the majority of Christian refugees from Syria chose not to register with UN agencies for assistance. On the benign level it can be said that many had sufficient resources to be independent; while others depended on extended family and the local churches. But less positively, it seems that many Christians feared reprisals if registered in the camps. Thus it seems that none settled in camps in Lebanon (where there are no formal camps) and none have settled in camps in Jordan or Turkey. There is also reported to be considerable fear of the criminal and sometimes Islamist gangs that reportedly control many of the camps.

(And one detail is worth noting in that apparently Armenia offered citizenship to Syrian Armenians. As of last year, about 15,000 settled in Yerevan.)



Of the 120,000 Christians forced out of the Nineveh Plain into Iraqi Kurdistan (Irbil and Dohuk) in 2014 by ISIS, some 80,000 remain. Those living in Iraqi Kurdistan are legally identified as internally displaced peoples, and are receiving some form of assistance from the UN, as well as from church organizations. Of those who left, many have gone to Jordan — the king offered hospitality and expedited visas, but he asked the churches to care for the primary needs of the community. Parishes did just that, temporarily housing the refugees and providing for their basic needs.  While others have returned within the country to Baghdad, where they continue to draw pensions and salaries if once employed by the state. While accurate data is hard to determine it seems that in 2016, 955 Iraqi Christian families (including 1,187 children) left Jordan for resettlement and many of these went to Australia.

A. M-R



For additional background and reports see:




For additional reporting see: