A State Department official testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Thursday that there are very few Syrian Christian refugees entering the United States because they feel safe in their own country and are not fleeing.
Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) responded to Anne Richard, assistant secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, “You said they’re not fleeing, because they feel safe, Ms. Richard, how many Christians have we brought in, in the last five years?”
“Four percent of all the Syrians we have brought have been Christian or other minorities,” Richard replied.
“You’ve brought in 53,” Walker continued. “You tell me that’s four percent? Because according to the numbers that aren’t hard to find – you can look this up on CNN, Wikipedia, or any place else – there are two million Christians decimated, okay? Two million Christians. According to Pope Francis, he calls it genocide.”
As CNSNews.com reports, only 53 of the 2,184 Syrian refugees admitted to the United States since civil war broke in Syria in 2011 are Christians, while 2,098 are Muslims.
Following a question from Walker as to whether she wished to retract her statement, Richard then said some of the Christians in Syria are not fleeing because they support President Bashar al-Assad and feel safer with him there.
“But of the ones who come out, who choose to flee and feel they are in danger, those are the people we want to help, absolutely,” she added.
Richard, nevertheless, also testified that the U.S. does not prioritize Syrian Christian refugees simply because of their religion. Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) challenged his Republican colleagues on their questioning of Richard regarding this issue by asking whether it is constitutional to prioritize one religious group over all others.
“Well, related to refugees, Mr. Connolly, one of the five ways that someone can be determined to be a refugee is if they’ve been persecuted on the basis of their religion, and from the perspective of my office, it doesn’t matter what their religion is,” Richard responded. “It’s the reason that they’re being persecuted, and they could qualify to be determined to be a refugee, and so we see people fleeing from around the world.”
Richard stressed the State Department would not alter the refugee program to “bring more of one particular religion than another,” agreeing further with Connolly that the State Department looks primarily at the “nature of the refugee status,” regardless of religion.
“Yes, I’m absolutely very comfortable with that,” Richard said.
“We’re trying to help people who are suffering violence, oppression, discrimination and provide a safe haven,” Connolly agreed.
The purpose of the hearing was to review the screening process for foreign nationals entering the United States, including consideration of the use of social media as part of that process. The hearing served as a follow-up to a previous hearing last week during which a Department of Homeland Security official could not answer basic questions regarding DHS’s capability to vet, track, and screen foreign nationals entering the U.S.