During 2016, Barnabas Fund has repeatedly raised concerns both in meetings with ministers and through our weekly news that the US and UK governments are discriminating against Christian refugees fleeing genocide in Syria. A response to a freedom of information request to the UK Home Office has just revealed that, although previously less than 2% of Syrian refugees being resettled in the UK were Christians, this figure has now fallen even further to less than one percent.
The response from the UK Home Office revealed that in the 13 months between 7 September 2015 and 30 September 2016, 4,175 Syrian refugees were resettled in the UK under the government’s Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme – of which a mere 64 were Christians (1.5%), with nearly 98% of places being given to Muslims. This is despite it being widely accepted that prior to the civil war Christians made up around 10% of Syria’s population.
However, comparing this data with that from an earlier freedom of information request covering the first 10 months of that period reveals an even more disturbing fact. Tiny as this percentage is, it is actually falling still further. A simple calculation comparing the two sets of data reveals that in the last 3 months for which information is available (1 July–30 September 2016) of the 1,583 Syrian refugees accepted into the UK a mere 13 were Christians i.e. 0.8% – suggesting that the proportion of Syrian Christian refugees has dropped by 50% in the last 3 months. Similar figures occur for Yazidi refugees, as the table below shows:
Total no. of Syrian refugees admitted to UK
No. of Syrian Christian refugees admitted to UK
Percentage of Syrian refugees admitted to UK who are Christians
No. of Syrian Yazidi refugees admitted to the UK
Percentage of Syrian refugees admitted to the UK who are Yazidis
First 10 months (7 Sep 2015–30 Jun 2016)
13 months (7Sep 2015–30 Sep 2016)
Last 3 months (1 Jul–30 Sep 2016)
This parallels with a similar trend in the USA where the percentage of Syrian refugees who are Christians has fallen from just below 2% to now less than 0.5%, with similar minuscule percentages of Yazdis.
Both countries outsource the selection of refugees for resettlement to the UN. As Barnabas Fund has stated previously, there is clearly a major problem of institutional discrimination in how the UN High Commission for Refugees operates on the ground. Yet the UK and US governments do not have to simply accept this.
It is now widely acknowledged that Christians, Yazidis and Shi’a Muslims are facing genocide in Syria – yet these are the very groups that would be massively underrepresented in the UK and US refugees admissions – even if they were not being targeted for genocide.
The fact that they are so grossly underrepresented when they have been specifically targeted for at least the last four and half years implies that both the US and UK governments would rather outsource their refugee programmes to an international body that blatantly discriminates against those facing genocide, than go to the trouble of selecting refugees themselves in a fairer and less discriminatory way. By doing so, they risk seriously tarnishing the previously high reputations of both counties for compassion, fairness and justice.