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The Trump Administration’s Dismal Record on Refugees

Fewer Than 20,000 Resettled with One Month Left This Fiscal Year

Eleven months into the US government’s 2018 fiscal year, the number of refugees resettled to the United States is a dismal 19,899. This is less than half of the annual ceiling of 45,000 – itself an all-time low.

Human Rights Watch Refugee Rights Program Director Bill Frelick in front of the White House, Washington, D.C., January 29, 2017. © 2017 Bill Frelick/Human Rights Watch

This leads to dreaded anticipation that the Trump Administration soon will announce deeper cuts in refugee admissions for fiscal 2019, starting October 1.

The steep drop in refugee admissions from the 85,000 admitted in 2016, the last year of the Obama Administration, shows that the US has abdicated its leadership role in supporting the countries by hosting the largest proportion of the world’s 25.4 million refugees. Whether you look at US refugee admissions based on a refugee’s country of origin, or the host country where a refugee has lived before being accepted for resettlement to the United States, the numbers are abysmal.

So far this year, the US has admitted only 60 Syrians, 130 Iraqis, and 250 Somalis. Turkey hosts the world’s largest number of refugees, 3.9 million. Yet, in the first 11 months of this fiscal year, the US has admitted only 168 refugees from Turkey. Lebanon is hosting the largest number of refugees on a per capita basis, with refugees now comprising about one-quarter of its total population. Yet it has found little relief from the United States, which has resettled only 40 refugees from Lebanon this fiscal year. Bangladesh, which opened its doors to more than 700,000 refugees fleeing ethnic cleansing in Myanmar last year, is the country hosting the largest number of new refugees. It got no resettlement support from the US whatsoever, as zero from there were admitted..

Refugee resettlement is not just a life-saver for the people who are rescued. It is one of the tools used  to support frontline states, where refugees first flee, that struggle to host large numbers of refugees for economic, social, or geopolitical reasons. If the US sends the message that it is not willing to help by taking even a relative few, it signals to frontline countries that they may as well close their doors also. This, in fact, is already happening in  Jordan and Turkey with respect to Syrian asylum seekers. The consequences for the world’s refugees—and the stability of fragile frontline countries—could be devastating.

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