Refugees persecuted for their faith should be given priority – US body

Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen and Shiite Muslims are among the religious minorities facing extreme persecution under Islamic State.Reuters

The US must prioritise refugees based on their vulnerability, a top government body for religious freedom has said.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on Tuesday released a statement affirming its support for the US to continue resettling Syrian refugees fleeing the Middle East.

In the wake of the terror attacks on Paris on November 13, the US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to suspend President Barack Obama's programme to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year, and several Republican presidential candidates have said refugees pose a security risk.

Obama has vowed to veto the House's bill, although the White House has pledged to tighten security measures.

The USCIRF yesterday affirmed the need for stringent protections, but chairman Dr Robert George said the US "must continue to live up to our nation's core values which are reflected in our leadership in resettling vulnerable refugees.

"That responsibility starts with a generous policy of admitting those Syrian refugees to the United States who are vulnerable to the most horrific mistreatment – including murder, rape, torture, and enslavement," he added.

The USCIRF said it was "horrified" by the November 13 attacks in Paris, and denounced "in the strongest terms the brutality of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL)".

However, it "also stands with those who have fled this terror," the statement said.

Individuals seeking resettlement in the US must be "carefully vetted", and additional checks should be carried out on refugees coming from Syria, which would allow the US "to both welcome Syrian refugees and protect security", George said.

"USCIRF also calls on the United States to prioritize the resettlement of Syrian refugees based on their vulnerability. Throughout the region, Christians and members of some other religious minority communities have been targeted by ISIL for persecution – and in some cases genocide – because of their faith," he continued.

"At the same time, we recognize that ISIL has also targeted both Shia and Sunni Muslims who have resisted their violent ideology. In these instances, religion, as an important factor in determining vulnerability, may legitimately be taken into account in the prioritization process."

Prioritising Christian refugees has been a contentious subject as countries struggle to deal with the influx of refugees from the Middle East.

On Sunday, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said there should be "some preference" for religious minorities fleeing ISIS.

Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen and Shiite Muslims are among the religious minorities facing extreme persecution under the militants.