The US Is Resettling the Fewest Number of Refugees in 40 Years
There are more than 65 million refugees in the world, according to the United Nations. Fleeing war, famine, persecution, and natural disaster, some travel thousands of miles for safety and security.
Others only make it as far as a neighboring country — like Kenya, Jordan, and Turkey — where they’re herded into camps and cities and forced to struggle to survive on their hosts’ limited, and often dwindling, resources. A lucky few in those host countries are selected to resettle in wealthy countries in other parts of the world like Canada and the UK.
But the registration and vetting process for resettlement is intense, and can often take years. Each year, less than 1% of the world's refugees are given the coveted opportunity to restart their lives in a new country.
Historically, the United States has led the way on global refugee resettlement, taking in tens of thousands every year. But in January 2017, President Donald Trump slashed the refugee resettlement quota by more than half, and issued an executive order banning entry to nationals of half-a-dozen countries, including some of the world’s largest producers of refugees, from entering the US.
Since then, the flow of refugees to the US has slowed to a trickle, and 2018 is on pace to be the worst year for resettlement to the US in decades. Here’s how this year’s resettlement numbers to date (January to March) in 13 refugee crises stack up against the past, according to State Department data.
1. Iraq: 29
98.6% decrease from the first three months of 2016
In the 12 years following the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, an estimated 2 million people fled the country, while more than 4 million were internally displaced. At the height of Iraqi refugee resettlement in 2014, nearly 1,700 were welcomed into the US every month. Now, that rate has slowed to less than 10 per month, even though Iraq is no longer included in Trump’s travel ban executive order.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees are still stranded in places like Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan ― which are also hosting Syrian refugees, escalating tensions and making resources scarce.
2. Syria: 11
98.2% decrease from the first three months of 2016
The Syrian conflict — now in its seventh year — has produced 13 million refugees, making it the largest refugee crisis of the 21st century. Yet Syrian refugee resettlement to the US has all but halted, even as US military involvement in Syria continues to take thousands of civilian lives.
3. Somalia: 73
97.4% decrease from the first three months of 2016
Somalia’s complex, decades-long civil war and political instability have created one of the world’s most pressing refugee crises. The UN has registered over 870,000 Somalis as refugees in the Horn of Africa and Yemen, while 2.1 million remain internally displaced.
Since Trump’s travel ban went into action, the number of annual Somali refugee resettlements to the US has dropped from thousands to dozens, and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been actively trying to deport Somali refugees. Somalia also happens to be another place the US military is actively engaged.
4. Afghanistan: 317
51.8% decrease from the first three months of 2016
Sixteen years of war between the Taliban on one side and US and Afghan goverment forces on the other has created millions of Afghan refugees. Although Afghanistan is much further from Europe than Iraq, Syria, or northern Africa, Afghans make up the second-largest group seeking asylum in Europe. An estimated 2.5 million have also sought safety in neighboring Pakistan over the years.
5. Sudan: 20
83.6% decrease from the first three months of 2016
In February, the UN sounded the alarm on South Sudan’s conflict as Africa’s biggest refugee crisis. The next month, the US resettled no Sudanese refugees because of the travel ban, despite the increasingly dire situation.
Nearly 7 million people from South Sudan need emergency aid, thanks to a now five-year-long civil war. One in three South Sudanese have fled their homes, 90% of whom are women and children, according to Reuters.
6. Yemen: 0
No change from the first three months of 2016
The civil war in Yemen has created what many aid organizations call the world’s worst ongoing humanitarian crisis. But since 2015, the US has resettled almost no refugees from the conflict. While the initial reason for the low numbers of refugees was the inability of Yemenis to flee their war-torn country, the travel ban now prevents the resettlement of any refugees from Yemen.
The US actively supports one the main warring factions in Yemen, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia that supports the government, which has killed thousands of civilians during its air campaign.
7. Libya: 0
No change from the first three months of 2016
In recent years, the US has also resettled almost no refugees from Libya, even though its military intervention contributed to the destabilization of the country.
Despite a deadly civil war between multiple rebel factions and a significant ISIS presence, Libya is a main launching point into Europe for refugees from other African countries like Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea.
8. Democratic Republic of Congo: 1,415
39.0% decrease from the first three months of 2016
The Democratic Republic of Congo is one conflict-ridden country from which the US continues to accept a significant number of refugees. Despite cutting the US’s total refugee resettlement quota by more than half, the first three months of 2018 only saw the number of resettled Congolese refugees drop by 39%, as compared with the first three months of 2016. The US is on pace to welcome more than 4,000 Congolese refugees in 2018 alone.
9. Myanmar: 1,114
65.2% decrease from the first three months of 2016
Even before the Burmese military’s current efforts to purge Myanmar of Rohingya Muslims, the US welcomed thousands of Rohingya fleeing religious persecution. Despite the Rohingya crisis reaching critical levels at the end of 2017, the rate of Burmese resettlement to the US has been slashed by about two thirds.
10. Ukraine: 689
37.0% increase from the first three months of 2016
While the number of refugees resettled from nearly all other countries has decreased since the year before Trump's presidency, Ukrainian refugees fleeing war between pro- and anti-Russian forces are among the only group to have experienced an increase in resettlement to the US so far this year.
11. Bhutan: 390
23.5% drop from the first three months of 2016
Between 1990 and 1993, more than 100,000 ethnic Nepalese in Bhutan were forced to flee to refugee camps in eastern Nepal. Over the years, most of those refugees have been able to leave those camps, largely due to the United States, which has resettled about 85,000.
Trump’s cutting of the refugee resettlement quota has significantly reduced the number of Bhutanese refugees entering the country, but hundreds are still able to make the move every month.
12. Eritrea: 332
45.5% drop from the first three months of 2016
Though there is no ongoing conflict in Eritrea, the country is still one of the world’s top sources of refugees. Thousands flee Eritrea ― governed by a totalitarian dictatorship ― every month due to forced military service and other human rights violations. In 2015, they made up the fourth largest group of asylum-seekers in Europe.
13. Iran: 2
99.7% drop from the first three months of 2016
Refugees from Iran — one of the countries included in the travel ban — have seen the most abrupt drop in resettlement, going from more than 4,000 the year before Trump’s inauguration to just two this year. Unlike many asylum-seekers fleeing civil war and famine in other countries on this list, many Iranians are fleeing persecution by an autocratic regime.
65.8% drop from the first three months of 2016
In the midst of the world’s worst refugee crisis since World War II, the US is on pace to resettle roughly 21,000 refugees in 2018. According to State Department data, which measures in fiscal years (October to September), that would be the lowest since 1977.
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