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Refugee resettlement hits 10-year low

The United States is set to take in its lowest number since 1977

Robb Hohmann/USAID

Some 50,000 to 60,000 people fleeing war and persecution will start a new life and be on track for a new passport in 2018, but it will be the fewest number of refugees resettled globally any year since 2007, UN figures show.

The drop is mainly due to President Donald Trump’s administration slashing the US quota. The United States took in 68 percent of the 770,000 refugees permanently resettled in the last 10 years, according to the UN – an average of about 51,000 per year. But, this calendar year, fewer than 10,000 had made the journey to the United States by the end of July.

Read more → So, your country isn't keen to resettle refugees. Are you?

Developing regions host 85 percent of the world’s refugees, according to the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR.

With one month to go in the 2017-2018 US financial year, government statistics suggest the United States will have taken in its lowest number of refugees since 1977. A State Department list shows 19,899 arrivals, and non-profit Refugee Council USA predicts a total of 22,000 by the end of September, the fiscal year-end. This number is less than half the reduced ceiling of 45,000 admissions announced by the Trump administration in September 2017. (A UNHCR official explained that the discrepancy between UN and US figures is because the United States also takes cases not referred through the UN refugee agency.)

Read more → US refugee resettlement system reels from Trump ban

Even with the limits imposed by the Trump administration, the United States will still take in more refugees than any other country. After a temporary increase around the Syrian crisis in 2016, other countries are barely matching their own 10-year averages, and none seem ready to start closing the gap left by US cuts.

Overall, some 126,000 refugees were given a route to permanent residency and citizenship in a new country in 2016, with Australia, Britain, Canada, and Norway taking in more than ever before. That now looks like a record that will not be surpassed for years.

European centrist politicians are reluctant to offer more help to refugees in this political climate for “fear of the populist movements”, explained Pål Nesse, senior advisor at the Norwegian Refugee Council. “We have to step up and do more,” he said, speaking particularly about Europe, while also pointing out that South American, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries could provide more resettlement places.

Nesse said the failure of rich countries to share the burden weakened their “legitimacy” in talks with developing countries, which “are hosting so many”. Without demonstrating initiative, Western countries cannot counter the accusation of trying to “export the problem”, he added.

Read more → Is resettlement for 10 percent of refugees a pipe dream?

Refugee resettlement refers to permanent residency and eventual citizenship granted to refugees, usually in the United States, Canada, Australia or other developed economies in Europe. Typically, a family of resettled refugees will have already left their country of origin and found asylum in a neighbouring country. From there, particularly vulnerable or deserving cases can be recommended by UNHCR and put forward as candidates to potential host countries.

There are other paths to citizenship for refugees: Tanzania, for example, has granted citizenship to tens of thousands of long-term refugees from neighbouring Burundi. Germany may, eventually, grant citizenship to some of the hundreds of thousands of refugees it has taken in since 2015.


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