Nearly half of the more than 63,000 refugees welcomed into the United States in the fiscal year 2016 so far were Muslim ― with a majority of new Muslim arrivals coming from the war-torn countries of Syria and Somalia.
According to a Pew Research Center analysis of State Department data, America has received 28,957 Muslim refugees since Oct. 1 2015, the beginning of the fiscal year. That’s 46 percent of the total number of refugees entering the country. It’s already the highest number of Muslim refugees the United States has received since 2002, the first year for which data on self-reported religious affiliations among refugees is available. (Muslim refugees have, of course, been admitted to the U.S. much earlier than 2002).
Most of these new arrivals came from Syria (8,511) and Somalia (7,234), two countries with predominantly Muslim populations that have been ripped apart by civil war. Others came from Iraq (6,071), Burma (Myanmar) (2,554), Afghanistan (1,948) and other countries (2,639).
Christians aren’t far behind in the stats. According to the Pew analysis, 27,556 Christian refugees have entered the country so far in fiscal year 2016. Over the past 15 years, 46 percent of all refugees welcomed in America were Christian, while 32 percent were Muslim.
Faith communities from multiple religions have regularly spoken up as advocates for refugees. At least six faith-based organizations, from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, work closely with the government to help refugees resettle and adjust to living in the United States.
Jen Smyers is a Director of Policy and Advocacy for Church World Service, a multi-denominational, faith-based agency that has traditionally assisted stateside in the resettlement of around 10 percent of refugees entering America every year. Smyers told The Huffington Post that in fiscal year 2016, CWS is helping with the cases of 8,647 individuals who have either arrived or have booked travel to the United States.
Smyers said that her organization always sees an uptick in the arrival of people from particular religions and nationalities when that group is facing violence and persecution in their home countries.
“As people of faith, we believe in the call to assist those fleeing persecution,” Smyers wrote in an email. “What we are seeing today is that many around the world are fleeing their homes specifically because they are being targeted for their religious beliefs.”
Despite the fact that all refugees entering the country undergo a rigorous screening process that takes 18 and 24 months (and sometimes, even longer) some lawmakers have suggested enforcing a religious or nationality test for Syrian and other Middle East refugees. Many of the nation’s Republicgovernors have opposed allowing Syrian refugees to enter their states.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has repeatedly lashed out at Muslim migrants to the United States. On Monday, he proposed administering an ideological litmus test to Muslim visitors and migrants to the country.
Smyers said that is was critical, especially for religious minorities in the Middle East, that the U.S. not discriminate against people for their religious affiliation. Refugees of all faiths should be welcomed, she said, since discrimination could have drastic negative effects on the ways that religious minorities are treated in their countries of origin and host countries. Welcoming refugees of all faiths also “works against the talking points of extremists who would say that the U.S. does not care about the Arab or Muslim world.”
“Any notion of exclusion based on someone’s belief, stands in opposition to basic American values, and only serves to heap undue condemnation on those that have already been persecuted for their faith,” Smyers told HuffPost. “To put anyone through a religious litmus test would not only be discrimination and thus illegal, but un-American.”