World Refugee Day: U.S. Leading Decline in Global Support for Refugees Under Trump Administration

As the international community marks World Refugee Day on Thursday, advocacy groups are sounding the alarm of a dramatic decline in global support for refugees, "led by the U.S.," despite "increasing need."

Global resettlement needs have increased 17 percent from 2018 to 2019 alone," the International Rescue Committee said in an analysis of updated global displacement numbers from the United Nations refugee agency.

Yet, the IRC said, "led by the U.S., there has been a nearly 50 percent decline in global resettlement slots, even as countries like Bangladesh, Colombia and Ethiopia have seen their countries swell."

So far, eight months into fiscal year 2019, which began at the start of October, just 18,051 refugees have been welcomed into the U.S. at a rate of around 2,250 a month.

Those numbers stand in stark contrast to the country's historic average of welcoming more than 6,500 refugees per month since 1980, with an average ceiling of 95,000 per year.

In FY 2019, the admissions ceiling has been placed at a historic low, with the cap set at just 30,000 refugees, representing less than a third of the country's historic average commitment.

The low ceiling has also been coupled with what the IRC has branded an "artificially" reduced processing capacity, with U.S. admissions slowing at times to a virtual standstill.

"Today, we face an unprecedented global crisis, with more than 25 million refugees fleeing violence and persecution," the IRC said in its analysis.

Yet, "despite consistent popular support for refugees, a flurry of new policies have made it increasingly difficult for them to find safe haven in the U.S.," the organization said.

Indeed, public opinion polls have suggested that levels of support for welcoming refugees and immigrants into the country are among the highest they have ever been.

A January poll from the Pew Research Center found that more than 60 percent of people in the U.S. believed that immigrants strengthen the country. Meanwhile, another poll that month from Quinnipiac University saw more than 75 percent of people in the country say they believe immigration is "good" for the U.S.

"This popular support has not escaped the notice of state and federal policymakers," the IRC said in its release. "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."

While some states have pushed for pro-immigrant and refugee legislation, however, at the federal level, the Trump administration has overseen a nationwide crackdown on those most desperate to come to the U.S.

And while, the IRC noted, "no religious group has been spared by the plummeting rate of refugee admissions under this administration," Muslim refugees appear to have been affected the most, in large part due to the Trump administration's "Muslim ban."

"Between FY17 and FY18, admissions of Christian refugees declined by 36 percent while admissions of Muslim refugees declined by 85 percent," the IRC said. "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 largest refugee crises impact majority-Muslim countries."

A recent report from Amnesty International highlighted the cases of hundreds of families from war-torn regions, including Syria, who are "locked in an impossible limbo" waiting for the U.S. to take action on their asylum cases.

Some have seen their cases approved, but have had their cases held up for months, if not years, due to lengthy "security checks" that appear to have no end in sight.

"These are families who put their trust in the United States at their most desperate hour, and now find themselves on the brink of catastrophe through absolutely no fault of their own," Amnesty researcher Denise Bell said in a statement.

"America's legacy," the IRC said, "is under threat and people in desperate need of protection are being left out in the cold, including families in need of reunification and people whose lives are at risk for their support of U.S. missions abroad."

Outside of the U.S., the IRC said, a close look at global refugee admissions so far this year "reveals that progress toward some regional ceilings are out of step with need" in different parts of the world.

"While refugee admissions from Africa, East Asia, and Europe are nearly complete with a third of the year left to go, admissions from Latin America/Caribbean and Near East/South Asia have all but barely begun," the IRC said. "Admissions from both regions are on pace to reach just a fifth of their respective ceiling by the end of the fiscal year."

In the U.S., the IRC said, Congress must hold the current administration "accountable for the state of the refugee resettlement program. Legislators should demand answers about the pace and nature of admissions in FY19 and call on the administration to set a ceiling no less than 95,000 in FY20.

Under President Donald Trump, a return to the country's historic average cap is unlikely, however, with the U.S. leader focused on deporting "millions" of people out of the country, while letting historically low numbers of refugees in.

Refugee, U.S. flag
A Central American migrant wrapped in a U.S. flag looks at the almost dry riverbed of the Tijuana River near the El Chaparral border crossing near the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana, Baja California State, Mexico, on November 25, 2018. The U.S. is leading a decline in global refugee resettlement spots, the International Rescue Committee has warned. GUILLERMO ARIAS//Getty