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Press Release

This World Refugee Day, US should welcome three times as many Central American refugees

As one of the world’s fastest-growing displacement crises worsens, the IRC calls on the Biden Administration to triple the regional refugee allocation, implement fixes to the US asylum system, and urgently address the humanitarian crisis in the region.

Ahead of World Refugee Day, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) calls on the Biden Administration to take bold action to address the humanitarian crises in the Western Hemisphere. IRC’s new report outlines the toxic mix of COVID-induced economic strife, growing gang and gender-based violence, and increasing climate threats fueling one of the world's fastest-growing displacement crises in Northern Central America (NCA). 

While projected refugee resettlement needs have increased 3 percent globally from 2020 to 2021, needs in Latin America jumped 489 percent. US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) admissions slots for Latin America have however remained clearly insufficient: increasing from 3,000 slots to a mere 5,000 out of a total of 62,500. As President Biden continues to rebuild the USRAP, and with over half of Americans believing that the US has a moral obligation to resettle refugees, the IRC calls on the Administration to increase admissions slots for Latin American to 15,000 for FY22 in recognition of the estimated nearly 30,000 people in need of resettlement from the region, as part of his commitment to increase refugee resettlement slots to 125,000 for FY2022. 

In 2020, gang and gender-based violence, insecurity, and climate change caused 1.4 million people to be internally displaced across countries in Northern Central America. Furthermore, violence, natural disasters, and political instability have served as the drivers of migration for an estimated 709,000 people fleeing the region in FY2019 followed by an estimated 139,000 people in FY2020, despite the Trump Administration’s inhumane and ineffective attempts to stem migration over the past four years:

  • Gender-based violence level increased in 2020: femicides increased 43 percent in El Salvador, for instance, and nearly 19 percent in Guatemala. Northern Central America is also considered one of the most dangerous regions in the world for women and members of the LGBTQI+ community, with one woman murdered every 6 hours in 2019, and LGTBQI+ community members regularly brutally targeted.
  • In El Salvador, 454,000 people were displaced in 2019 by conflict and violence (GRID, 2020). In Honduras, between 2004 and 2018, 247,090 people were displaced by conflict (ICRC, 2019).
  • Hurricanes Eta and Iota upended the lives of nearly 7 million people in November 2020, losing their homes and livelihoods. As severe climate phenomena increase, UN agencies have warned that decades of progress in building food security in the region may be lost. Hunger in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua has increased almost fourfold over the past two years - from 2.2 million people in 2018 to close to 8 million people in 2021 - a result of the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 and years of extreme climate events.

The Administration can immediately alleviate both the growing root causes of crisis in Northern Central America, alleviate pressure on the US Southern border, and encourage other countries in the region to increase their own resettlement commitments by: 

  • Increasing aid to address the humanitarian crisis in the region and the thousands who are internally displaced, including via cash assistance and building up response and protection capacity in communities of first refuge; 
  • Expanding admission slots for Latin Americans in the USRAP to 15,000 up from the current goal of 5,000, recognizing projected resettlement needs in 2021; 
  • Increasing regional processing capacity and referral pathways so that persons facing acute protection risks, like LGBTQI refugees, have equitable access to resettlement; 
  • Ending Title 42, the policy whereby asylum seekers have been expelled at the US-Mexico border under the pretext of public health, and introduce COVID-proof measures to safely and humanely process asylum-seekers at the border. 
  • Introducing long-term reforms that promote a fair and humane US asylum system including protection-centered, community-based alternatives to detention, universal legal representation, and humanitarian reception at the border. 

Jennifer Sime, Senior Vice President of Resettlement, Asylum, and Integration at the IRC said:

“The Biden Administration is in a unique position to take swift and decisive action to alleviate the growing humanitarian crisis south of the US border - and set a powerful global example on this World Refugee Day, as global displacement swells to its highest number since World War II. 

“With poverty, violence and climate threats on the rise, thousands from Northern Central America will continue to seek safety in the United States. Increasing safe and legal pathways for their protection and ending failed policy at the US southern border - including Title 42, over-reliance on ICE detention and lack of legal representation - is necessary. Anything less would be out of step with reality.

“Compassion over cruelty is also what the American people want: a recent YouGov poll commissioned by the IRC reveals that over half of Americans agree the US has a moral obligation to resettle refugees and provide safe haven in US communities. 

“The IRC calls on the Biden Administration to listen to the American people and take decisive action to stem human suffering at its doorstep. These policy moves would be right and smart: right because they address, in accordance with US and international law, a growing refugee and humanitarian crisis which has been gravely mishandled. Smart because they promote stability in the Americas, reduce pressure on the US Southern border and encourage other nations to step up to the plate with their own resettlement commitments. This would befit a true humanitarian leader on this World Refugee Day."

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.