As a justification for his intention to prioritise Christian refugees over Muslim refugees, President Trump said:

Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough, to get into the United States? If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian it was almost impossible.

Is this true?

Source: Trump signs order temporarily halting admission of refugees, promises priority for Christians, Carol Morello, Washington Post, 27 Jan 2017


2 Answers 2


The Washington Post fact checked this claim and scored in 2 (of 4) Pinocchios.

While it's true that the number of Syrian Christian refugees admitted to the US is disproportionately lower, it's not clear why.

The WP article lists the number of Syrian refugee for 2016 by religion as:

Muslim Sunni: 15,134 Muslim Shiite: 29 Christian: 89*

and notes that the number of Christians comes from adding up the different denominations (catholic, protestant, baptist, etc). (I came up with 32 more Christians - it seems the WP forgot to add in people who reported they are Orthodox.)

The article reports that when asked about Christian refugees, António Guterres, then U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, indicated that he believes that most Syrian Christians have gone to Lebanon due to the relative large Christian population there and long standing ties between the two countries.

Others have taken his comments to mean that the UN is not willing to let Christians leave the Middle East region.Since most refugees register with the UN before applying for asylum in the US, it's possible that some are steered away.

All of this of course is highly speculative, US law allows asylum on the bases of religious persecution, but there is nothing specific that applies only to Christians and not Muslim.

This is illustrated by this chart published by Pew:

Refugees by religion

While a record number of Muslim Refugees were admitted in 2016 compared to previous years, it was still about equal to the number of Christians.

So in conclusion: The number of Syrian Christian refugees is lower than expected, but the number of Christian refugee overall is not. That indicates that being a Christian is not a significant negative factor when applying for asylum.

The complete pew article can be found here.

  • In the US, disparate outcomes on race or religion are considered de jure a form of discrimination. Interesting that the US has not published the number of Christian refugee applicants.
    – user36356
    Jan 29, 2017 at 14:54

It's directionally accurate. CNS news found that 2184 Syrians had been resettled here since 2011. 2098 were Muslim and just 53 (2.4%) were Christian, although Christians are 10% of the population at large and more likely to be refugees because of persecution by ISIS. See here, here, and here.

In 2016 over 10,000 Syrian refugees were settled in the US, but I could not find their religion breakdown. If anyone has a more current view, please add.

I would also add that the law requires consideration of religious persecution for refugee status.

The city of Aleppo is believed to have the largest number of Christians in Syria. Aleppo has been ground zero for ethnic cleansing and the war in general between 2012-2016.

  • 4
    Maybe a large chunk of Christians left before the USA started taking them. This is a quick conclusion. I'd instead say "possibly, but more information is needed".
    – user11643
    Jan 28, 2017 at 16:42
  • 2
    Comparing the number actually settled to the proportion of the population doesn't say anything about the relative difficulty of getting approval. How many Christian applicants were there? How many Muslim applicants? Maybe the acceptance rate for the Christian applicants was 100%. We just don't know.
    – phoog
    Jan 28, 2017 at 22:30
  • 2
    "[Christians are] more likely to be refugees because of persecution by ISIS" citation needed. Shia Muslims and other Muslim sects are also being persecuted. I'd like to see some data before seeing such strong conclusions :)
    – user38280
    Jan 29, 2017 at 1:03
  • 3
    Christians are less likely to be persecuted and less likely to seek refugee status in Syria right now because they tend to live in urban areas controlled by the government and generally support the Assad government, which is dominated by Alawites, another religious minority.
    – antlersoft
    Jan 29, 2017 at 3:28
  • 2
    @antlersoft Yes, ISIS is sure known for it's hospitability to non-Muslims
    – user36356
    Jan 29, 2017 at 12:12

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