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New IRC analysis of US Refugee Resettlement shows vastly reduced arrivals at a time of record global need and consistent popular support; Refugees targeted by country-of-origin, Muslim arrivals facing sharpest decline

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  • Ahead of World Refugee Day the IRC highlights plummeting refugee admissions to the United States
  • Following three years of attacks by the Trump Administration, the resettlement program, once a beacon of US leadership, is being dismantled
  • Historically low refugee arrivals and the disproportionate exclusion of Muslims and refugees from Central and Latin America in need of protection are a stain on America’s humanitarian reputation
  • The Trump administration is out of touch with the compassion and welcome demonstrated by communities all over America

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) released an analysis today outlining the continued deep cuts to the US refugee admissions program and their resulting impact on the world’s most vulnerable: those in desperate need of protection, families seeking reunification, and people whose lives are at risk for their support of U.S. missions abroad.

While global resettlement needs have increased 17 percent from 2018 to 2019, the US cut its annual admissions ceiling by one-third, to a historic low of just 30,000. Led by the US, there has been a nearly 50 percent decline in global resettlement slots, even as host countries like Bangladesh, Colombia, and Ethiopia have seen their refugee populations swell. In fact, just 10 countries which make up fewer than 3 percent of the world’s GDP, host more than half the world’s refugees. The richest and most powerful country on Earth should not be turning its back on the world’s most vulnerable people.

“This World Refugee Day, we recognize the unparalleled success story of the U.S. refugee admissions program: saving and rebuilding lives, demonstrating America’s compassion and solidarity with those who are unjustly persecuted, and enriching America’s economy.” Said Hans Van de Weerd, Vice President, Resettlement, Asylum and Integration at the International Rescue Committee.

“American humanitarian leadership has previously spurred a race to the top in meeting humanitarian obligations; today it leads a race to the bottom. Cruelty has replaced compassion.”

This is just some of the human toll behind the public data on US resettlement:

  • Refugee admissions continue to be slashed despite increasing and well-documented global need. FY19’s admissions ceiling cut to just 30,000 refugees on the heels of FY18’s 45,000 refugees.
  • Artificially reduced processing capacity has further reduced admissions. Eight months into FY19, a mere 18,051 refugees have been welcomed to the US at a rate of around 2,250 a month. In contrast, the US has historically welcomed an average of more than 6,500 refugees per month since 1980*, with an average ceiling of 95,000 per year.
  • Admissions by region are out-of-step with need, with admissions from Latin America and Middle East lagging far behind. A closer look at arrivals in light of regional ceilings reveals that refugee admissions from Africa, East Asia, and Europe are nearly complete – while admissions from Latin America/Caribbean and Near East/South Asia have all but barely begun. By contrast, the Middle East currently hosts the largest population of people in need of resettlement, including those whose lives are at risk for assisting US troops in missions abroad.
  • No religious group has been spared by plummeting refugee admissions – but Muslim refugees have borne the brunt. Between FY17 and FY18, admissions of Christian refugees declined by 36 percent while admissions of Muslim refugees declined by 85 percent. Muslim refugees are now are on track to comprise just 15 percent of total admissions this fiscal year despite the fact that most of the world’s prominent refugee crises impact majority-Muslim countries.

Cuts to domestic refugee resettlement numbers are out of sync with the compassion of Americans across the country for refugees, and their demonstrated desire to continue welcoming people fleeing persecution

Not only are the historically low admissions numbers out of sync with global need, but they also run counter to public sentiment in the US. Across the United States, state-level and community-based support for refugees and refugee resettlement continues to gain traction, with actions that demonstrate solidarity and support for this life-saving program. Public opinion polls continue to indicate that levels of support for welcoming refugees are among the highest they have ever been. This popular support has not escaped the notice of state and federal policymakers. In 2019, 23 pro-refugee measures were introduced in 17 states around the country, and Congressional champions representing 19 states and the District of Columbia have introduced legislation to return refugee admissions to historic levels. The Guaranteed Refugee Admissions Ceiling Enhancement Act, or GRACE Act as it is known, would ensure the US welcomes no fewer than 95,000 refugees a year, in line with the historic average admissions ceiling under both Democratic and Republican presidents since 1980. Members of Congress from both parties have repeatedly rejected the administration’s efforts to slash funding for refugees and voted to maintain America’s support for the world’s most vulnerable.

Despite this strong support across the U.S. for welcoming refugees, the Trump Administration has continued to slash the number of refugees admitted to the U.S.

Comparing the monthly average of the last fiscal year (FY16) of the Obama Administration, and the current fiscal year (FY19) of the Trump administration**, in states where The IRC operates:

  • Arizona - 64% Decline
  • California - 72% Decline
  • Colorado - 55% Decline
  • Florida - 71% Decline
  • Georgia - 51% Decline
  • Idaho - 51% Decline
  • Kansas - 39% Decline
  • Maryland - 45% Decline
  • New Jersey - 32% Decline
  • New York - 52% Decline
  • Texas - 58% Decline
  • Utah - 54% Decline
  • Virginia - 47% Decline
  • Washington - 48% Decline

This World Refugee Day, we should remember who refugees are, and the value they bring to their new homes. Citizens and communities around the U.S. are already making refugees and other New Americans welcome, and striving to uphold this country’s legacy of humanitarian leadership even as the federal government is increasingly abandoning it. The U.S. must admit no fewer than 95,000 refugees annually in line with historic levels- to address the unprecedented global displacement crisis, and to reflect the resources and expertise the United States has to meet this challenge. 

 * All refugee admissions data is publicly available on WRAPSnet.org.

**All Figures are Oct 1 – May 31. Montana excluded.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 26 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.