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President Biden on track to admit the lowest number of refugees of any US president in history - IRC calls for Presidential Determination on admissions 

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New analysis by the International Rescue Committee reveals that midway through the 2021 fiscal year, only 2,050 refugees have been admitted to the United States, a new historical low despite promises by the Biden administration to immediately increase the number of refugees allowed to resettle into the United States. 

President Biden’s delay in issuing the Presidential Determination has prevented tens of thousands of already-cleared refugees from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East from resettling in the US, with over 700 refugees’ flights from some of the world’s toughest crisis zones cancelled as a result. If the President does not take immediate action to implement his revised refugee policy, an estimated 5,000 refugees will be admitted this fiscal year — less than half the number admitted under the Trump Administration last year. This would be the lowest number of any US president in history.

At the FY21 mid-year mark, the US Refugee Admissions Program, functioning under the purposefully-restrictive rules and discriminatory admissions categories left behind by the previous Administration, leaves thousands in harm’s way.

  • In the 10th year of the war in Syria, Syrian refugees represent the population with the highest resettlement needs, accounting for a colossal 41 percent of needs globally. Yet, just 42 Syrian refugees were admitted to the US so far in FY21, a 97 percent drop compared to the same period in 2016.
  • At the 6th year of its civil war, Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe with half of the population of the country going hungry. Yet zero refugees from Yemen were admitted to the US in FY21, contrasted to the 6,070 Yemeni refugees who have sought resettlement this year as reported by the UN. 
  • The number of refugees in the Americas predicted to need resettlement is estimated to have increased to 29,374 people from 2020 to 2021, a 489% increase. Yet resettlement slots for Central Americans remains capped at 1,000, undermining the Biden Administration’s multi-pronged approach toward managing forced displacement in the region.  
  • Black and brown immigrants continue to bear the brunt of the cuts. Africa has been the region with the highest resettlement needs in the world since 2017. Only 682 refugees from Africa were admitted to the US in FY21, a 94 percent drop compared to the same period in 2016.
  • Discriminatory travel bans, the application of cynical “extreme vetting” measures, and targeted rhetoric all worked to keep the door shut on Muslim refugees. Muslim refugees accounted for 46 percent of all refugees resettled in 2016 but just 22 percent in 2020. There is no publicly available data on the number of Muslim refugees admitted in FY21.

Over 30,000 refugees who have already passed security reviews to receive conditional approval from the U.S. Government remain barred from admission by the Trump Administration’s discriminatory categories for refugee admissions and arbitrary cap of just 15,000 refugees. As refugee leaders wrote to the Administration, many are families waiting to be reunited with relatives in the United States after years of waiting.

Nazanin Ash, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy, International Rescue Committee, said: “Each day that the Trump administration’s restrictive and discriminatory categories and all-time low refugee admissions ceiling of 15,000 individuals remains in place is another day that families remain separated and the most vulnerable people are stuck in uncertainty. With Trump Administration policies still in place, President Biden is on track to admit the lowest number of refugees of any president ever to take office since the creation of the modern-day refugee resettlement program in 1980. 

“Each day that the Trump administration's refugee policy remains in effect is also another day in which the Biden Administration’s quick work to dismantle discriminatory travel bans remains unfinished. The current restrictive and discriminatory categories amount to a near-total ban on Muslim refugees and most refugees from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. 

“The refugee admissions program has a proud bipartisan history and a legacy of success in the US. The American public believes, by wide margins, that the US should be a place of refuge for those seeking safety from violence and persecution. President Biden affirmed this history and these values in his early executive actions and in his emergency proposal on refugee admissions to Congress. We ask that President Biden act swiftly to enact the FY21 admissions goal at 62,500 and remove the previous administration’s restrictive, discriminatory, and arbitrary admissions categories.” 

On February 12th, 2021, the Administration proposed and bipartisan members of Congress affirmed an emergency revision to the Trump Administration’s arbitrary, restrictive, and discriminatory refugee admissions policy, arguing that “To respond to all of these unforeseen and urgent situations, a revised target of 62,500 is proposed and is justified by grave humanitarian concerns and is in the national interest.” Eight weeks later, President Biden still has not issued his revised US refugee admissions goal. 

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 over 20 U.S. cities 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.