NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Refugees coming to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) outnumbered those from Syria over the last year, U.S. State Department data revealed on Monday, amid a heated debate over refugees ahead of the Nov. 8 election.
The high number of refugees from the DRC follows violence and political turmoil in the central African nation, said Kathleen Newland, a senior fellow at the Washington DC-based Migration Policy Institute.
It may also reflect an easier passage for those from DRC, a majority Christian nation, through the stringent vetting process refugees must undergo to enter the United States, she said.
"We have been extremely sensitive to the possibility of people who have been involved with militia groups, with rebel groups from Syria coming in through the refugee program," Newland said.
"There is not an Islamist element among the combatants in DRC - at least that worry is not an element in the screening process."
The United States admitted 16,370 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo during the 2016 fiscal year to the end of September, compared to 12,587 Syrian refugees.
U.S. admission of Syrian refugees has been a hot button issue in the presidential race, with Republican candidate Donald Trump warning that violent militants could enter the country posing as refugees.
His Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, has supported accepting some of those fleeing the war-torn country.
The United States has offered refuge to far fewer Syrian refugees than many of its allies. In September, the state of Texas gave notice that it was withdrawing from participating in the federal refugee resettlement program, citing security concerns.
In 2015, Democratic President Barack Obama announced plans to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, sparking fierce criticism, mostly from Republicans who said the plan could put Americans at risk. His administration announced in August that it would meet that goal.
After the DRC and Syria, most refugees admitted to the United States in 2016 came from Myanmar, Iraq and Somalia, U.S. State Department figures showed.
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)