The Home Office has confessed that not a single Christian was among the 1,112 Syrian refugees resettled in the UK in the first three months of this year.
Before the civil war that has torn apart the country, Christians accounted for approximately 10 per cent of Syria’s population, yet in the first quarter of this year only Muslim refugees have been granted permission to resettle. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees recommended 1,358 Syrian refugees for resettlement in the UK. Of that number a mere four were Christians. All four were rejected.
These figures, obtained by Barnabas Fund through persistent Freedom of Information requests in the face of what has every appearance of being a dogged attempt by Home Office officials to avoid their release, are not a statistical blip. The numbers for last year demonstrate a continuing pattern of under-representation. It was as bad in previous years.
Figures from 2016 indicate that Home Office officials, who process referrals from the UN, appear to have made the situation yet worse. While 69 per cent of all Muslims referred by the UN were accepted for resettlement in the UK, only 44 per cent of Christians were accepted and less than 21 per cent of Yazidis. The end result was that of the 4,850 Syrian refugees the Home Office accepted for resettlement in the UK, a mere 11 were Christians, representing only 0.2 per cent of all Syrian refugees accepted by our government that year.
It is widely accepted that Christians are woefully under-represented amongst accepted refugees. Christians were singled out for attack by jihadis at the beginning of the conflict which began seven years ago. They continue to be at risk, both in Syria and in the refugee camps established in the Middle East, yet according to official figures only Muslims seem to want to come to Europe.
Open Doors, the non-denominational mission supporting persecuted Christians, reports: ‘All Christians in Syria are experiencing persecution in one form or another. Historical churches have been demolished or converted into Islamic centers, while their leaders are targeted for abduction or attack due to their public exposure . . . Something as minor as singing out loud poses great danger. Christians in these areas are forced to adhere to the Islamic dress code, pay protection money and keep Islamic dietary restrictions.’
For the last 18 months, Barnabas Fund has had to go to considerable lengths to obtain figures from the Home Office on Syrian Christian refugees. After prolonged delays, Barnabas Fund finally had to take the extraordinary step of obtaining an order from the Information Commissioner’s Office threatening the Home Office with contempt of court proceedings in the High Court. Even after this, the Home Office delayed as long as possible and the figures were released only just before the deadline. The Immigration Minister had to be personally asked to release the information.
The reason for the Home Office’s reluctance to release the figures is clear. Barnabas Fund goes so far as to claim that the government’s behaviour ‘shows a pattern of under-representation and significant prima facie evidence of discrimination that the government has a legal duty to take concrete steps to address’.
In a statement, the charity said: ‘As Barnabas Fund recently reported, of the 7,060 Syrian refugees the UNHCR recommended to the UK in 2017 only 25 were Christians (0.35 per cent). However, the Home Office only accepted eleven of these – meaning that Christians made up only 0.23 per cent of Syrian refugees resettled in the UK last year.’
Responding to the revealed figure for 2017, the Home Office said in a statement: ‘The vulnerable person resettlement scheme prioritises the most vulnerable refugees who have fled the Syrian conflict, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.
‘We are working with the UNHCR and other partners to reach groups that might be reluctant to register for the scheme for fear of discrimination and unaware of the options available to them.’
The UK is legally obliged to ensure it does not turn a blind eye to either direct or indirect discrimination. Christians are morally obliged to come to the aid of our persecuted brothers and sisters.
A version of this article first appeared on A Grain of Sand and is published here with kind permission.