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Syria: Four Years Later

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 16, 2015 | USCIRF

WASHINGTON, D.C. — March 15 marked the 4th anniversary of the protests in Damascus, Aleppo and Daraa which set the stage for the Syrian conflict.  On this sad anniversary, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) remembers the millions of Syrians who have suffered.  USCIRF also notes that Syria’s history of religious diversity may be lost and all of Syria’s religious communities are largely deprived of religious freedom.

“After four years of conflict, religious diversity and freedom in Syria are victims of the actions of the al-Assad regime, as well as of internationally-recognized opposition fighters and U.S.-designated terrorist groups, in particular the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),” said USCIRF Chair Katrina Lantos Swett.  “By the systematic targeting and massacre of primarily Sunni Muslims, the al-Assad regime created the environment in which ISIL could rise and spread, threatening the entire region and all religious communities that reject its violent religious ideology, with the smallest religious minority communities facing an existential threat.  The world must face the stark reality that many may never be able to return to their homelands.  Not only must we continue to bear witness to their plight, we also must protect them and grant them safe haven.”

More than half of Syria’s pre-conflict population now is internally displaced or are refugees in neighboring countries.  Of the more than 3.8 million registered refugees who sought safety, mostly in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, and Iraq, an estimated three-quarters are women and children under the age of 17 -- including tens of thousands of babies who are stateless.  An estimated 9.3 million people in Syria need food, water, and shelter, including more than 6.5 million who are internally-displaced.  In addition, four years of conflict and ISIL’s widespread and well documented attacks, including beheadings and mass murder, have irrevocably damaged the country’s religious diversity.

USCIRF calls on the U.S. government to work with our international partners to prioritize the protection of and assistance to all non-combatant Syrians, especially religious and ethnic minorities, and help ensure that issues related to religious freedom and human rights are included in any political negotiations that seek to end this devastating crisis.  USCIRF also urges the U.S. government to increase the U.S. refugee ceiling from 70,000 to at least 125,000; increase the number of Syrians accepted for resettlement; and ensure that Syrians who pose no threat to the United States and are fleeing the al-Assad regime or terrorist groups are not unfairly excluded from the U.S. resettlement program under overbroad terrorism bars.

In its 2014 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended for the first time that Syria be designated a CPC.  The Syria chapter in the Report includes other recommendations, as does the op-ed Year of the Refugee.

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at media@uscirf.gov or 202-786-0613.

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