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 perhaps the strictest, most rigorous vetting process – and the rules just got much stricter.
The Trump administration announced recently that it will slash the number of refugees accepted into the US in fiscal year 2019 to 30,000. That’s the lowest “cap” a president has set since the refugee program was created in 1980.
But according to State Department data, the administration took in just 22,491 refugees in the entire 2018 fiscal year – that’s fewer than half the 45,000 cap the administration set last 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 65.6 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. For 0.4% of refugees, that safe country was the United States.
When refugees flee their home country, they often have to temporarily seek safety in a “host country,” where they typically live in refugee camps until they can permanently be resettled. For instance, many of Syria’s 5.5 million refugees 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, and 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 dramatically 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. 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.
In the last 20 or so years, presidents have generally kept the cap in the 70,000-range. The Trump administration reduced it 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.
Source: Business Insider
Under the Trump administration, refugees who are permitted to resettle in the US are mostly from African countries.
Despite the often dangerous conditions in central American countries, the US accepted only 525 refugees from Latin America. 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.
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 refugees or expatriates 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, have accepted zero refugees so far this year.
Source: Pew Research Center
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