Whither the Syrian Christian Refugees?

by Jason Dzubow on December 16, 2016

As the Syrian city of Aleppo falls under government control, the question of Syrian refugees has become even more urgent. Forces loyal to the government are summarily murdering civilians, and even the wounded cannot be evacuated due to government (and Russian) military action. Despite heartbreaking “goodbye messages” from civilians trapped in the conflict zone, I have little expectation that the world will do much to help. We have ignored genocides again and again, so why should we expect anything different here?

Which is easier to explain: The absence of Christian refugees, or the absence of Christian charity?

Accepting Syrian refugees into the United States has also been controversial. Donald Trump called them “a great Trojan Horse.” I suppose the same could be said of the Jews fleeing Hitler on the ship St. Louis, which reached our shores but was refused permission to land. I am sure many of those men, women, and children were secret Bolsheviks plotting a Communist takeover. Lucky for us, they were rejected and returned to Europe, where over 250 of them perished in the Holocaust.

One gripe raised by those opposing the admission of Syrian refugees is that the refugees are disproportionately Muslim. In a recent concurring opinion, Judge Manion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, notes the mysterious absence of Christians from the pool of Syrian refugees arriving in the United States. See Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center v. DHS, 16-1840 (7th 2016). J. Manion writes:

I write separately for a… critical reason, which is [to express] my concern about the apparent lack of Syrian Christians as a part of immigrants from that country…. It is well-documented that refugees to the United States are not representative of that war-torn area of the world. Perhaps 10 percent of the population of Syria is Christian, and yet less than one-half of one percent of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States this year are Christian…. [Of] the nearly 11,000 refugees admitted by mid-September, only 56 were Christian. To date, there has not been a good explanation for this perplexing discrepancy.

Judge Manion’s observation is supported by a recent report from the Pew Research Center, which found that in FY 2016:

[R]efugee status was given to 12,587 Syrians. Nearly all of them (99%) were Muslim and less than 1% were Christian. As a point of comparison, Pew Research Center estimated Syria’s religious composition to be 93% Muslim and 5% Christian in 2010.

The most accurate data I have found about Syrian refugees essentially lines up with the findings of Judge Manion and Pew: Of 12,541 Syrian refugees admitted into the U.S. in FY 2016, between 0.5 and 1% self-identified as Christian. It is a bit less clear how many Christians lived in Syria prior to the current war. Estimates range from 5.1% (Pew) to 10% (CIA). But no matter how you slice it, it’s clear that the Syrian refugees entering the U.S. are not representative of the country’s population–fewer Christians than expected are coming to our country as refugees. So what’s going on here?

First, here is the conclusion that I don’t accept–the one pushed by people opposed to Muslim immigration–that the Obama Administration is deliberately favoring Muslims over non-Muslims. I don’t support this conclusion because, while a disproportionate majority of Syrian refugees are Muslim, the majority of refugees overall (from all countries), are not Muslim. In FY 2016, we admitted 38,901 Muslim refugees and 37,521 Christian refugees (out of a total of 84,995 refugees). In other words, in FY 2016, about 46% of refugees admitted to the U.S. were Muslim; 44% were Christian. (This was the first year of the Obama Administration where more Muslims than Christians were admitted as refugees).

A more plausible explanation for the absence of Syrian Christians was proposed by Jonathan Witt, an Evangelical writer and activist, and an Obama critic. Basically, he believes that Muslims are more likely than Christians to end up in refugee camps, and since refugees are generally selected for resettlement from the camps, Christians are disproportionately left out. This part sounds logical, but (to me at least) Mr. Witt takes his argument a bit too far:

As bad off as the Muslim refugees are, they aren’t without politically well-connected advocates in the Middle East. Many Muslim powerbrokers are happy to see Europe and America seeded with Muslim immigrants, and would surely condemn any U.S. action that appeared to prefer Christian over Muslim refugees, even if the effort were completely justified. By and large, they support Muslim immigration to the West and have little interest in seeing Christian refugees filling up any spaces that might have been filled by Muslim refugees.

The deck, in other words, is heavily stacked against the Christian refugees. The White House has been utterly feckless before the Muslim power structure in the Middle East that is doing the stacking, and has tried to sell that fecklessness to the American people as a bold stand for a religion-blind treatment of potential refugees —religion tests are un-American! It’s a smokescreen.

Here, he’s lost me. This conspiracy-minded nonsense might be more convincing if there were some evidence for it (and remember, FY 2016 was the first year of the Obama Administration where we resettled more Muslim than Christian refugees). The prosaic arguments may be less interesting, but they have the vitue of being more likely.

I have a few of my own theories as well. For one thing–and maybe this ties in with the first part of Mr. Witt’s thesis–Syrian Christians were somewhat better off than Syrian Muslims. If they have more resources, maybe they were able to avoid the refugee camps by leaving in a more orderly way and by finding (and paying for) alternative housing. Also, Syrian Christians are generally not being targeted by the Assad regime. Indeed, in view of the threats they face from extremists, Syrian Christians are more likely to support the government–not because they have much affection for Bashar Assad, but because the alternative is even worse.

So there very well may be a reasonable explanation for the lack of Christians among Syrian refugees resettling in the U.S. But because the Administration has not explained the anomaly, we are (as usual) left with an information void. And that void is being filled by speculation from fringe writers like Mr. Witt, but also by federal court judges, like Judge Manion. The solution should be obvious: Those involved in the refugee resettlement effort should tell us what’s going on. This would help satisfy many critics and it will help protect the refugee program going forward.

{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

SDK January 25, 2017 at 9:12 pm

You are missing the most likely reason for the lack of Syrian Christian refugees, at least based on my personal experience. Almost all of the Syrian Christians have already left through other methods. They began fleeing when they saw what would happen to them under the Islamic State and they have not stopped since. They are Lebanon, they are in Europe and they are already here. My Syrian Christian (Maronite Catholic) colleague has been living in a small apartment with his wife’s parents and sister for almost two years. They are both citizens, her family is under TPS. His father and brothers and their families are in Lebanon. Syrian Christians are, by and large, middle class and educated. Like the urban, middle class Jews who saw the writing on the wall early enough in Hitler’s regime, they were able to get out and take at least some of their assets with them. This community, which has lived in Syria since the apostles, is already gone. Most people feel that it may never return. The people left in Aleppo now are either combatants or they are civilians without resources and connections overseas. If the pastor is actually concerned for Christian minorities in the Arab world, he should at least get the facts straight instead of trying to fit them into his already existing political perspective.


Jason Dzubow January 26, 2017 at 8:35 pm

I agree with you – thank you for the comment, Jason


basel January 19, 2017 at 12:29 pm


I hope you are doing well. What is the status of Asylum interview in Arlington office? it’s been almost 5 months and they are still processing applications from January 2014. Any new regulations for the asylum? Is the SF office really the fastest office in conducting the interviews?



Jason Dzubow January 20, 2017 at 9:44 am

You have to check the Asylum Office Scheduling Bulletin – a link is at right. Arlington has been doing more interviews in the last few months, but across the US, things are moving slowly. Take care, Jason


basel January 23, 2017 at 2:09 pm


Do you know what month Arlington office is processing right now? it’s been more than four months that the keep posting January 2014.



Jason Dzubow January 25, 2017 at 6:59 am

I believe they are interviewing cases from February 2014, but check the Asylum Office Scheduling Bulletin, which was recently updated – a link is at right. Take care, Jason


Lala January 4, 2017 at 6:56 pm

Religions have been used for political or hate games since humans created religions. Race and other things are also used for the same reasons. People are forever blinded by those game. The sad thing about Syria’s conflict is that it has been used by almost everyone from inside to outside Syria for different causes/gains and to prove different points. I really enjoy reading your stuff, thank you for the interesting readings 🙂


Jason Dzubow January 8, 2017 at 7:53 am

Thank you. I agree with your comment as well, it is a sad irony of the human condition. Take care, Jason


Hanita December 22, 2016 at 1:55 am

Dear Jason,
Thank you for your informative blog for asylum seekers.

I came to the US on an F-2 visa as a dependent to my husband. Then, we, me as a primary applicant, filed an asylum application and we have been waiting for an interview since then. Now, my husband has got a job offer and he is processing his H1-B visa application. Based on his H-1B visa I can get H4 visa. However, I don’t want waste my time without working being on an H4 visa. I am confused whether or not to apply for an H4 visa. What do you advise me? The related issue is if I do not apply for the H4 visa now, my F-2 visa will expire in 6 months time and I will be out of status (unless the pending asylum application counts as a “status”) which, in turn, makes the H4 visa application more problematic.

Thank you for your help.


Jason Dzubow December 22, 2016 at 11:06 pm

You might want to get the H4. You will still be able to work using your EAD from the pending asylum case, and this will give you other options in the future (for example, if your husband and you get a green card based on his job). I imagine you have a lawyer to help with the H visa, and I recommend you tell him/her the situation and see what the lawyer thinks, as your lawyer is more familiar with the case than me. Take care, Jason


Hanita December 23, 2016 at 12:59 am

Your help is highly appreciated.


Dolly December 20, 2016 at 7:26 pm

Hi Jason:

Thank you for all your help and support. I have a question for you. I am going to renew my EAD this year. Its expiring next year end of March. What else should I send along with I-765 apart from picture, form, copy of EAD and check of $380? Do I need to send in my I-589 or notices from USCIS?Where should I send it?I applied from Minnesota. So my asylum office is Chicago. Thank you.


Jason Dzubow December 21, 2016 at 7:35 am

Sorry, I cannot give such specific advice. You will have to look at the form. I can tell you that the new EAD will be valid for 2 years, so that is a help. Also, if you cannot afford the fee, you could try the fee waiver, form I-912, available at http://www.uscis.gov. Take care, Jason


Ahemd December 20, 2016 at 1:29 am

Hi Jason,
Thank you for your form, it is the only window of hope for asylum seekers.
I filed and interviewed in Chicago. I moved to Hawaii, so which office I have to send my work authorization extension request?
Chicago or Los Angeles?



Jason Dzubow December 20, 2016 at 7:36 am

If you look at the mailing addresses for the form I-765, available at http://www.uscis.gov, it should tell you, as I do not know off the top of my head. Take care, Jason


Ahemd December 20, 2016 at 3:43 pm

Thank you,
I am asking about, did they transfer my case to Los Angeles because I have interviewed on February 2015 and waiting my background check?


Jason Dzubow December 21, 2016 at 7:28 am

Normally – but not always – if you have already done your interview, they will not transfer your case to a new office, so my guess is that your case remains in the office where you interviewed. You can always contact them and ask. You can find their contact info if you follow the link at right called Asylum Office Locator. Take care, Jason


Ahemd December 21, 2016 at 6:41 pm

So, the EAD depends on the asylum office or on your current address?
I think this is stupid question but I am confused to which office I have to send my renewable EAD application?

John December 19, 2016 at 3:19 pm

Dear Jason,
I came to the US on an F-1 visa. A year later, my wife and two kids joined me here on an F-2 Visa. Then, my wife applied for an asylum in which me and the kids are derivatives in my her application. Since then, as you know, we are waiting for an interview. Now, I am almost done with my studies and I have got a job offer. My (future) employers are willing to petition for H1-B visa; actually, they have started the process. In one of the forms that I am supposed to complete, there is a question that says “Has an Immigrant Petition ever been filed with the Immigration Service on your behalf?” I am not sure how I should answer this question. Can you please advise me on this? Will our pending asylum application affect the H1-B visa my employer is willing to petition? For your information, despite the pending asylum application, NONE of us is out of status: I do have a valid F-1 visa and my families do have a valid F-2 visa.

Thank you for your help.


Jason Dzubow December 20, 2016 at 7:25 am

The asylum case should not affect your H1b application. I am not sure whether an asylum application might be considered a “petition.” Technically, it is not, but if you want to err on the side of caution, you can say “no” but write a note explaining that you have an asylum case pending. Presumably, you have a lawyer for the H1b, and the lawyer needs to know about the asylum case in order to properly complete the 1b application. Take care, Jason


John December 20, 2016 at 11:08 am

Dear Jason,
Thank you for answering my question. I highly appreciate it.

I do have one more question: Are derivatives of H1-B holders legally allowed to work ?

Thank you for your usual help


Jason Dzubow December 21, 2016 at 7:47 am

I believe not, but I do not know. I do not do H1b cases, and you should talk to a lawyer familiar with such cases. Take care, Jason


Jay December 19, 2016 at 1:32 pm

Good day sir, Thank you on the good work in this forum. We had our interview two weeks ago and we were asked to come today to pick the decision but the officer called two days ago saying we do not need to come that the decision will be mailed to us but he told my wife that he has some questions for me that I should come to the office next week. My question is, my wife is the primary applicant and am just a derivative of the case, why do you think the office will want to ask me questions and not my wife. He said my wife and children do not need to come but me


Jason Dzubow December 20, 2016 at 7:20 am

Normally, they do not have so many questions for the dependent, but they can anything they want. You should review the whole case so you are familiar with your wife’s story. Maybe she can tell you about what was discussed. You do not want there to be inconsistencies between your account and hers. On the other hand, it could be something very routine (maybe they forgot to ask you the “bar” questions that they ask anyone, like, Are you a criminal, etc). If you have military service, they often ask about that too. Take care, Jason


Jay December 20, 2016 at 3:38 pm

Thank you.


Aseel December 18, 2016 at 10:36 am

Sorry my father has applied for a petition


Aseel December 17, 2016 at 9:34 pm

Dear Jason
I am an asylum applicant pending an interview since August 2014. My is an American citizen (he was a refugee ), and he has applied for a petition of an alien relative on Oct. 2015 ( form I-130). I’m married. I would like to know if i can Apply for an I-485 together with my husband before getting the petition approved. Also is it correct that we should get a preliminary approval after a year from the date of petition application.
I would appreciate your explanation.


Jason Dzubow December 19, 2016 at 7:32 am

If this is your father, he can apply for you, but there is a very long waiting period (maybe 8 years; I can’t remember). You can Google “DOS Scheduling Bulletin” to see the wait period. Until your father’s petition is current, you cannot file the I-485. Even then, if your case is pending, you will likely need to leave the US to collect your green card. For that, you would want to talk to a lawyer to make sure you can still do it. Take care, Jason


Pierre December 17, 2016 at 11:35 am

Hi Jason , There is something really made me confuse . Even my lawyer got confused about that and could not give me any explanation. I have the asylum pending and I have a surgery in Canada ( which is my preference because of my favorite doctor) So I have applied for advance parole and after approved 4 months , I’ve got the approval in November , But it is only valid for 30 days , from 8 jan 2017 to 7 Feb 2017 , Although I mentioned my surgery is in Jan 2017, But right now it makes my hands tight , because I need Canada visa and also the timeline is very limited. So I have couple questions :
1- Have you ever seen they gave an advance parole like that? For only one month?
2- is there any way to extend that?
3- they day of issue is 8 Jan 2017 ( I don’t know why ) but can I use it
sooner than that date?
Thank you so much.


Jason Dzubow December 19, 2016 at 7:27 am

1 – Yes; I have also seen them issue it for a longer period. Maybe they did not understand the reason for the travel and that you need more time. 2 – Not that I know of, but maybe try making an Info Pass appointment (www.uscis.gov) to ask. They used to be able to issue emergency AP at these appointments; maybe they can somehow extend the time for you. But I am not sure about that. 3 – You should double check this, but my understanding is that the dates on the AP are when you can return to the US, so if you leave before then, it should be fine. You just cannot return to the US except during the period of validity of the document. You should have your lawyer double check whether that is correct, but I think it is. Take care, Jason


Pierre December 19, 2016 at 6:21 pm

Thanks Jason for your detailed answer.
I really appreciate it.
Wish you the best.


Jay December 16, 2016 at 6:34 pm

No, I am not from the middle east.


Patti Lyman December 16, 2016 at 5:04 pm

One of the reasons Christians stay away from the camps in greater numbers is that, per many news reports, Christians are attacked, raped and otherwise terrorized by Muslim “refugees” in the camps. In other words, it’s just like they are treated in their native Islamic countries, only worse.


Jason Dzubow December 19, 2016 at 7:50 am

I think the treatment of Christians in the Middle East is very variable. Under the Assad family, Christians seem to have been treated just fine, as long as they did not oppose the regime. I do think fear of harm in the camps is one reason that keeps them away, but I also think that most everyone is fearful of the camps. I have not seen many news reports about violence against Christians, and so I suspect that either the issue is not being fully reported or that the issue is being exaggerated. And there are reasons to suspect that it is a little of both. Take care, Jason


Tareq December 22, 2016 at 2:16 pm

I do respect your opinion, but it is far away from reality as earth far away from star VEGA! Saying and generalizing that Muslims normally attack, rape and terrorize Christians is totally irrational and shows a significant lack of knowledge in history and geography, which are important bases when you want to make a valid opinion about religions in the middle east, and you want your opinion to be taken seriously! And about the harm in the camps, every body is subjected to harm, not only non-Muslims.


Lara January 23, 2017 at 3:24 pm

It is also true that many Christians do not prefer to live inside the camps because of the different traditions and customs between Muslims and Christians. This is also reflected in how Muslims and Christians are living demographically inside Syria.


Al December 16, 2016 at 3:42 pm

Hi Jason and as always thank you very much for this blog.
That said, I do have one question. I currently have H1B and TPS. If I travel on my H1B and return to the US will I lose the ability to qualify for TPS in the coming years. Based on USCIS rules it reads, “The law allows an exception to the continuous physical presence and continuous residence requirements for brief, casual and innocent departures from the United States.”
What do you think?


Jason Dzubow December 19, 2016 at 7:46 am

I think you should talk to a lawyer who knows more about TPS. My guess is that you should be fine, and also, I think H1b is generally superior to TPS, but if you want to maintain both statuses – and there may be very good reasons to do that – you should talk to a lawyer before you travel to make sure there will be no issues. Take care, Jason


Tareq December 16, 2016 at 2:48 pm

Great article Jason. I am Syrian, and in Syria, the Christians are treated elaborately better than the Sunni Muslims majority. Christians control the gold business in Syria, the regime also guaranteed to them many critical positions in the Army and the government. Assad’s regime, the father and the son, knows the importance of Christians as a political card in the middle east. Since the beginning of the Syrian revolution, the regime’s media started to spread rumors that the revolution is an “Islamic revolution” and not seeking freedom and democracy. And finally, the regime’s golden card is ISIS, it scares the west and it is vital for Assad’s regime’s continuous victory, in fact, without ISIS, Assad’s dictatorship would have been ended years ago. Given the special treatment for the Christians, they totally believed the regime. And those who live in the hot zones of Syria, they have the financial capability to travel to a safer place inside or outside Syria, and as a “minority” in the middle east, they are treated very well especially in Jordan and Lebanon. That is why you will never ever find a christian family in any refugee camp, and they can travel easily to the west since they have better chances in getting VISAs and travel exceptions.


alex December 16, 2016 at 3:35 pm

I agree with your main point but I am not sure about the reason for this loyalty. Even in the remote parts of Syria, Alawites and Christians villages seems to have gotten along more than with Sunnies. Of course this is all in addition to how the regime have used them recently as a political card.


Tareq December 16, 2016 at 3:42 pm

That is true, those families probably will not exceed a few hundred families, which is a very small percentage of the Christian population. Anyways, even this small percentage still have better chances in leaving the country, and they are more acceptable than the Sunnis. The propaganda the regime wants to deliver to the world that he is the guardian of the non-Sunni minorities, and without him there will be genocides against them.


Jason Dzubow December 19, 2016 at 7:44 am

I think this propaganda is not entirely false. If ISIS had its way, there would be genocide against non-Sunnis (and many Sunnis too). It’s just that Assad is probably more of a mass murderer than ISIS, so the choice for Christians and other minorities is not much of a choice – go with the dictator who exploits them, or face murder from ISIS. Take care, Jason


Tareq December 22, 2016 at 1:39 pm

I totally agree. That is the choice the Syrian Christians have to make. This choice is part of a game that Assad’s regime brilliantly played to stay in power and force the international community to support him.

Jason Dzubow December 18, 2016 at 11:29 am

I would not want to be a Christian in Syria (or anyone else in Syria at this point), but I think Syrians in government-controlled regions are not facing persecution from the government, at least that is my understanding of the situation. Christians and many others in ISIS-controlled areas face genocide. Take care, Jason


Jason Dzubow December 19, 2016 at 7:39 am

I appreciate your comment. I do think you need to be careful when generalizing. Most dictators know how to divide and conquer – raise up the minority to help you oppress the majority. It is an old story (and by the way, the colonial powers did the exact same thing when they controlled the Middle East). But I do agree that ISIS is useful for Assad – he claims that all is opposition is from “terrorist”, when in fact, he has probably committed far more murders than any other faction in the country. Take care, Jason


Tareq December 22, 2016 at 2:04 pm

I have many Christian friends, actually they are more of very close friends, we talk a lot, even before the revolution, about how the regime is using the Christians to gain support and legitimacy from the international community. In Homs and Aleppo there are some Christians who were persecuted by Assad because they support the revolution, and some of them are fighting with the Free Syrian Army, which is also fighting ISIS. My point is the regime will not hesitate to persecute any group that stands against him, and without a religiously extreme group like ISIS, that twist the religion, he was going to face many opposition from the Christians in Syria. The golden card of ISIS is the regime’s savior. Just recently, after Russia destroyed Eastern Aleppo killing hundreds of civilians many of them are children and took control over the area, that put Russia and the regime in a humanitarian crisis. Just a couple of days after that, ISIS supporter took responsibility of an explosion near Damascus, and that explosion was caused by a 10 years old suicide girl that used an explosive built around her, and just yesterday her father appeared in video blessing his daughter and promising for more. This video was another savior for regime, cause now his media spreading that even the children are dangerous and must be killed.


Jason Dzubow December 22, 2016 at 11:11 pm

It is incredibly depressing. The regime will use anyone and anything to stay in power. If it helped Assad, they would support ISIS in a second. I had hoped for better when Bashar replaced Hafez, but clearly that was wrong. I wonder if he will ever be punished for his mass murder. I doubt it. Take care, Jason


SDK January 25, 2017 at 9:25 pm

No, no. Here, g-d willing, I believe you are wrong. The man likes fine suits, nice houses and international travel. He will be the darling of Trump and Russia, somehow the war will end (with much unnecessary suffering and violence) and he will eventually get lazy. He will travel, maybe to Germany or to Sweden or similar, and one of the European Powers will nab him and put him on trial for war crimes. He is a mass murderer. Ending his life in a jail cell is too good for him but if he manages to live long enough, I believe we (the free world) will bring him down.

Lara January 23, 2017 at 3:38 pm

I do not really agree on generalizing that only “Christians” control the gold business and have many critical positions in the Syrian Army. In reality, some Sunnis also control the gold business specially in Aleppo and Damascus, and they also support al-Assad regime to keep these benefits. Some Sunni families are extremely rich and took advantage of this regime and its corruption. They also easily can get visas and travel exceptions. Poor Christians did not have a chance to get visas and had to travel the sea to reach Europe which is easier than the USA. You can find many Christians inside the camps in Europe.


Jay December 16, 2016 at 12:45 pm

Good day sir, Thank you on the good work in this forum. We had our interview two weeks ago and we were asked to come today to pick the decision but the officer called two days ago saying we do not need to come that the decision will be mailed to us but he told my wife that he has some questions for me that I should come to the office next week. My question is, my wife is the primary applicant and am just a derivative of the case, why do you think the office will want to ask me questions and not my wife. He said my wife and children do not need to come but me.


alex December 16, 2016 at 3:38 pm

your decision is ready just after 2 weeks??? Can I presume you are not middle eastern?


Jay December 16, 2016 at 6:35 pm

No I am not from the middle east.


Jason Dzubow December 22, 2016 at 10:55 pm

It depends on the type of EAD (based on asylum, adjustment of status, etch) and where you live. You have to look at the form I-765, direct filing addresses. Then you can find your category and your location, and then you will know where to send it. It is a confusing a inefficient system, but that is the system. Take care, Jason


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