New York, NY, July 23, 2018 — This week the U.S. Department of State is hosting a first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, convening a range of stakeholders to discuss solutions for addressing religious liberties around the world.
Refugees, according to U.S. and international law, are individuals who have a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Resettlement is a necessary and critical solution for the most vulnerable refugees – those who can neither return home nor safely create new lives in the countries to which they fled.
However, globally, at a time when over 25 million individuals have been forced from their homes across international borders, including religious minorities, refugee admissions have plummeted to the lowest in U.S. history. The Trump administration committed to resettling 45,000 refugees in federal fiscal year 2018 – the lowest since the creation of the modern U.S. refugee admissions program (USRAP) in 1980 and less than half the average refugee admissions ceiling of 95,000. Despite this very achievable level, as of June 30, only 16,230 refugees had arrived to the U.S.; at the current pace the U.S. will resettle no more than 21,000 refugees this year.
Refugees of all faiths, including those persecuted because of their religion or ethnicity, have been left behind by this drastic decline in resettlement. Overall, in the first seven months of this fiscal year U.S. refugee admissions of Christians have dropped over 60% and Muslim admissions are down 80% compared to the same period last year. Admissions of Yezidis—a brutally persecuted religious minority and the target of massacre, rape and sex slavery by terrorist groups—has dropped by 99 percent year-over-year: just 5 Yezidi refugees from Iraq were been admitted to the U.S. from October-April, and none from Syria. Refugees from Myanmar more than doubled in 2017 to over 1 million in large part due to the targeted killing of and widespread human rights violations against the Rohingya ethnic minority. Yet, the U.S. has resettled less than 500 Rohingya refugees through April.
In IRC’s Los Angeles office, refugee arrivals virtually stopped altogether, primarily because of halts to resettlement of persecuted religious minorities from Iran. Just 32 refugees from Iran, including people persecuted for their religion, have been resettled through April—a 99% drop compared to the same period last year. Overall, arrivals to Los Angeles have plummeted by 92% with only 93 refugee arrivals as of April 30, compared to 1,165 last year.
As the State Department and partners discuss the important issue of religious freedom, the IRC urges the U.S. government to increase the pace of refugee admissions this year and establish a robust refugee admissions ceiling for next year so that the most vulnerable fleeing persecution, including ethnic and religious minorities, can continue to find safe haven in the United States. The consequences of a failure to return to robust refugee admissions are immeasurable and far reaching in terms of those refugees left behind, families awaiting reunification with their loved ones here in the U.S., refugee-hosting countries who continue to take on more than their fair share, and waning U.S. influence abroad.