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Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde February 2, 2017

Most Syrian refugees are women and children, as Keith Ellison said

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., pushed back on an executive order signed by President Donald Trump to indefinitely suspend admission of Syrian refugees, calling it a Muslim ban and arguing that the order affects many women and children.

"When you try to ban refugees, these folks go through an 18-to-24-month vetting as it is," Ellison said Jan. 29 on CBS’ Face the Nation. "The fact is, is that Syrian -- if you talk about banning Syrians, about three-quarters of those folks are women and children. A full third of them are kids under 12 years old."

Ellison, who is vying to lead the Democratic National Committee, accurately cited data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

We previously explored the demographic makeup of Syrian refugees when Trump, as a candidate, made false claims that most Syrian refugees were actually strong men. (For background on Trump’s immigration executive order, check out our explainer.)

UN’s refugee agency data

There are more than 4.89 million Syrian refugees according to the UN’s latest count.

That total accounts for about 2 million refugees registered by the UNHCR (in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon), 2.8 million registered by the Turkish government and more than 29,000 registered in North Africa.

Ellison referenced a UNHCR regional demographic breakdown based on refugees registered in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.

To determine a figure for women and children, Ellison summed the percentage of registered Syrian males under 18 years old with the percentage of women of all ages -- it comes out to about 73 percent, according to data last updated Jan. 19.

Factoring in women of all ages and boys under 12 years old, it's about 66 percent.

Ellison’s other point about "a full third" of refugees being younger than 12 years old also checks out for the UNHCR group. About 17 percent relocated to Egypt, Jordan, Iraq or Lebanon are boys and about 16 percent are girls.

We wanted to know if the demographics were similar for the larger pool of 2.8 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. They are.

In Turkey, about 70 percent of registered Syrian refugees are women of all ages and males under 18. About 30 percent are children under 12 years old, according to data last updated Jan. 12.

Women of all ages and boys under 12 years old represent about 62 percent of the population.

Featured Fact-check

A demographic report for the estimated 29,000 refugees in North Africa (Egypt included in other UNHCR report) was not available.

Geoffrey Mock, Syrian country specialist for Amnesty International USA, said there's a large Syrian community in Libya and that it's likely many Syrian refugees there have not been registered.

The flow of Syrians to Libya after 2011 has been much greater than 29,000, Mock said. Syrian refugees have also gone to Tunisia, though the number there is less than 1,000 registered Syrian refugees according to a UNHCR fact sheet, he said.

The United States accepted 12,587 Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016 (Oct. 1, 2015-Sept. 30, 2016) and fewer than 2,000 in fiscal 2015.

Prior to that, the most Syrian refugees the Obama administration had accepted was 105, according to data from the State Department's Refugee Processing Center.

Here's a breakdown of fiscal year 2016 admissions:

- Total: 12,587

- Male: 6,571

- Female: 6,016

- Boys and girls under 14 years old: 6,118 (about 48.61 percent of admissions)

Our ruling

Ellison said, "About three-quarters of (Syrian refugees) are women and children. A full third of them are kids under 12 years old."

With only slight rounding, Ellison is correct on average for Syrian refugees registered in Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

A demographic breakdown is not available for more than 29,000 refugees in other North African countries, which represent less than 1 percent of all registered Syrian refugees.

We rate Ellison’s statement True.

Our Sources

White House, Executive Order: Protection the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, Jan. 27, 2017

CBS News, Face the Nation transcript January 29, 2017: Priebus, McCain, Ellison, Jan. 29, 2017

New York Times, Trump Bars Refugees and Citizens of 7 Muslim Countries, Jan. 27, 2017

Rep. Keith Ellison website, Rep. Ellison Statement on President Trump’s Muslim Ban, Jan. 30, 2017

Turkey: Refugee Crisis, fact sheet, January 2017

PolitiFact, Donald Trump: Syrian refugees potentially headed to U.S. are mostly men, Oct. 4, 2015

PolitiFact, Donald Trump's false claim that refugees, migrants are mostly 'strong, powerful men', Jan. 14, 2016

PolitiFact, Wrong: Donald Trump says there's 'no system to vet' refugees, June 13, 2016

PolitiFact, Federal government doesn't give information on Syrian refugees who come to Wisconsin?, Jan. 6, 2017

PolitiFact, Trump’s immigration ban: 4 key questions answered, Jan. 29, 2017

Email exchange, Rep. Keith Ellison press office, Jan. 30, 2017

Email exchange, Geoffrey Mock, Syrian country specialist for Amnesty International USA, Jan. 31, 2017

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, data on Syrian refugees registered in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon last updated Jan. 19, 2017, accessed Jan. 30, 2017

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, data on Syrian refugees registered in Turkey last updated Jan. 12, 2017, accessed Jan. 31, 2017

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Most Syrian refugees are women and children, as Keith Ellison said

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