- June 20 marks World Refugee Day, to shed a light on the millions of people worldwide who have been forced from their homes due to violence and conflict.
- The United States takes in just a tiny fraction of the world’s refugees, but it maintains one of the strictest, most rigorous vetting processes – and the rules have gotten much stricter in recent years.
- The Trump administration slashed the “cap” on the number of refugees accepted into the US in fiscal year 2019 to 30,000, and has admitted just 18,051 as of May 31.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Millions of people around the world have been forced from their home countries due to war, genocide, or persecution.
They come from conflict-ridden countries like Syria, Somalia, and Sudan, and they wait for years in refugee camps before they can secure a spot in safe countries.
The United States takes in just a tiny fraction of the world’s refugees, but it maintains one of the strictest, most rigorous vetting process – and the rules have gotten much stricter in recent years.
The Trump administration slashed the “cap” on the number of refugees accepted into the US to the lowest since the refugee program was created in 1980. The administration previously took in just 22,491 refugees in the entire 2018 fiscal year.
Here’s a look at where the world’s refugees come from and what they endure to make it to safety in the United States.
The UNHCR estimates that some 68.5 million people around the world have been forced from their homes.
Some of them are refugees within their own countries, some have managed to flee their home countries altogether, and some have no citizenship – and therefore nowhere to go.
As of 2016, the most recent year with data available, just 0.8% of the world’s refugees were resettled in safe countries, according to the UNHCR. For 0.4% of refugees, that safe country was the United States.
When refugees flee their home countries, they often have to temporarily seek safety in a “host country,” where they typically live in refugee camps until they can permanently be resettled.
Many of Syria’s 5.5 million refugees, for example, sought temporary safety in neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.
The United States is one of 37 countries that offer resettlement programs, though refugees don’t get to pick where they’re sent. Instead, the UNHCR assigns them to the US. Then, they undergo a rigorous, years-long screening process by US officials. Here’s how that works:
President Donald Trump has dramatically restricted America’s refugee intake since he took office. Though he has demanded that “extreme vetting” be implemented for refugees coming from majority-Muslim countries, those closest to the refugee-vetting process say the current system is already as extreme as it gets.
The refugees undergo years of screening filled with intensive interviews, detailed background checks from multiple government agencies, biometric data collection, medical tests, and constant scrutiny from the US officials who vet them.
Trump has reduced both the number of refugees the US can admit annually — known as the “cap” or “ceiling” — and the number it actually ends up admitting.
In the last 20 or so years, presidents have generally kept the cap in the 70,000-range.
Though former President Barack Obama raised the 2017 refugee citing to 110,000 admissions, Trump took office mid-way through the fiscal year, and barely allowed half that in the country.
The Trump administration reduced the cap to 45,000 for the 2018 fiscal year but took in fewer than half, according to State Department data.
As of September 30, the end of the fiscal year, the government resettled just 22,491 refugees.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced last month that the administration is slashing that cap even further for the 2019 fiscal year, and will accept a maximum of 30,000 refugees.
In a speech announcing the new cap, Pompeo said the reduction was because the administration is dealing with a backlog of hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers whose immigration cases are still pending. But asylum-seekers are an entirely different category of immigrants and have no bearing on the refugee program.
“The improved refugee policy of this administration serves the national interest of the United States and expands our ability to help those in need all around the world,” Pompeo said. “We will continue to assist the world’s most vulnerable while never losing sight of our first duty, serving the American people.”
The historic drop-off in refugee admissions is particularly noticeable from 2017 data.
Throughout the 2017 fiscal year – which started in October 2016 – refugee resettlement in the US plummeted once Trump took office on January 20, 2017. In August of that year, the Trump administration only resettled 913 refugees.
Resettlement organisations in the US have expressed dismay at the Trump administration’s reluctance to admit refugees – particularly when so many countries around the world are mired in crises that displace millions of citizens.
Refugee resettlement groups have warned that the reduction in admission levels would drain their resources and force the shuttering of many programs, making it even harder for the refugees who do arrive in the US to access any assistance they may need.
In the two years since Trump took office, the number of refugees accepted each month has remained low, and roughly stable. In the fiscal year 2019, usually between 1,000 and 3,000 per month have been accepted.
Under the Trump administration, refugees who are permitted to resettle in the US are mostly from African countries, according to 2018 data.
Despite the often dangerous conditions in central American countries, the US accepted only 525 refugees from Latin America in fiscal year 2018. Those who live in countries rife with gang violence, such as Honduras and El Salvador, seek safety in the US by migrating as asylum-seekers.
Instead of being processed by the UNHCR, the migrants attempt the dangerous journey northward to the US-Mexico border and strive to reach US soil, where they can claim asylum.
The Trump administration has also placed further restrictions around the asylum process, and has struggled to process and accommodate the tens of thousands of Central American migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border each month.
Refugees don’t get to choose which state they will be resettled in, either. Though they’re free to move around once they arrive, they are generally placed in cities where they either have relatives, or an existing community of immigrants from their home countries.
Some states are more welcoming to refugees than others. Texas, Ohio, California, and New York are well-known for accepting refugees. States such as Hawaii and Wyoming, however, accepted zero refugees in 2018.
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