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Members of Congress Release Bipartisan, Bicameral Letter Urging Administration to Help Christian Refugees Fleeing Syrian Conflict


September 23, 2015 - 7:34 PM


Washington, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) led a bipartisan group of 16 senators and members of the House in a letter to President Obama urging him to include Christians and other persecuted religious minorities in a recently-announced plan to accept 10,000 refugees from the Syrian conflict.

Since the conflict in Syria began in 2011, millions have been forced to flee their homes. In particular, Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities have been subject to violent persecution at the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), whose expansion across Syria and Iraq has led to murder, enslavement, forcible conversions and other atrocities against these faith communities 

“The United States has a strategic and moral imperative to reaffirm our commitment to protecting religious freedom around the world and must do more to support religious minority groups under siege by ISIL,” the senators and congressman stated in the letter. “As a country with a proud history of welcoming those seeking to practice their faith without fear or discrimination, the United States is well suited to resettling these refugees into existing faith communities.”

Joining Portman in leading the bicameral letter was Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA-51). In addition to Portman and Vargas, the letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL), James Lankford (R-OK), Tom Cotton (R-AR), and U.S. Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1), Judy Chu (D-CA-27), David Cicilline (D-RI-1), Joseph Crowley (D-NY-14), Jeff Denham (R-CA-10), Ted Lieu (D-CA-33), David Rouzer (R-NC-7), Scott Peters (D-CA-52), Daniel Donovan (R-NY-11), Grace Napolitano (D-CA-32), and Anna Eshoo (D-CA-18). 



Full text of the letter can be found below and here.

Dear President Obama

We write to you regarding your administration’s plan to begin accepting at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year, in response to the worsening situation in Syria.  According to numerous UN sources, since the conflict began in March 2011, more than 4 million Syrians have become refugees in neighboring countries and more than 7.5 million other Syrians are internally displaced. Recently, the world has watched as thousands of these refugees have attempted to flee the ongoing conflict and seek asylum in Western Europe. Many have tragically lost their lives as they journeyed across the Mediterranean and are exploited by smugglers and other human traffickers. As this crisis continues, we urge you to pursue a more holistic approach to the demographic profile of the additional 10,000 refugee allotments. In particular, we ask that Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities fleeing brutal persecution from ISIL be included in this, or any future, announced increase to the refugee ceiling and regional allocations.

As you are well aware, when ISIL established control over new territory last year, they warned religious minorities living under its jurisdiction they had three choices: convert to Islam; pay a cumbersome religious tax; or be executed. These religious minorities included Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen, and Shabak— all of which have a long and rich history in the region. Many thousands have been murdered or abducted, and an unknown number of women and girls have been sexually assaulted, sold into slavery, and forced into marriage. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, approximately 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since the conflict began, and about 3 million have fled to neighboring countries like Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan.

The United States, in coordination with an international coalition, must ensure that addressing the plight of religious minorities remains a key part of a comprehensive strategy to respond to the conflict. The United States has a strategic and moral imperative to reaffirm our commitment to protecting religious freedom around the world and must do more to support religious minority groups under siege by ISIL. As a country with a proud history of welcoming those seeking to practice their faith without fear or discrimination, the United States is well suited to resettling these refugees into existing faith communities. Several countries have already made commitments to help refugees that were able to flee, including Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, and others.

We strongly believe that we must do more to protect those facing mass atrocities and crimes against humanity simply because of their religious beliefs.

Thank you for your consideration of this request, and we look forward to continued engagement on this very important issue.

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