Many comparisons have been made in the past few weeks between the evacuation of Americans and Vietnamese from Saigon in 1975 and the exit from Afghanistan in 2021. Although many of these comparisons are valid, the commentaries miss a more apt point of comparison—the global response to the flight of Indochinese refugees in 1979. The refugee crisis had been growing since 1978 when the communist government in Hanoi increased internal relocations and expulsions of ethnic Chinese citizens from its territory. By the end of 1979, more than 450,000 ethnic Chinese had left Vietnam. They were joined by political prisoners, family members of those who had fled in 1975, and others opposed to the governing regime. At the same time, departures from Laos had also increased, as did movements to the Thai-Cambodian border after the defeat of the Khmer Rouge government and the occupation of Cambodia by Vietnam.
On Friday, April 16, President Joseph Biden issued a long-awaited “Memorandum for the Secretary of State on the Emergency Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021.” The Emergency Presidential Determination (PD) failed to deliver on the president’s promise to raise the ceiling on refugee admissions from the historically low level of 15,000 set by President Trump to 62,500 during this fiscal year, and it caused more obfuscation than illumination of the president’s goals. The White House’s attempt to correct itself hours later led to still more confusion.
This report analyzes the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), leveraging data from a national survey of resettlement stakeholders conducted in 2020. The survey examined USRAP from the time that refugees arrive in the United States. Its design and questionnaire were informed by three community gatherings organized by Refugee Council USA in the fall and winter of 2019, extensive input from an expert advisory group, and a literature review.
This study finds that USRAP serves important purposes, enjoys extensive community support, and offers a variety of effective services. Overall, the survey finds a high degree of consensus on the US resettlement program’s strengths and objectives, and close alignment between its services and the needs of refugees at different stages of their settlement and integration. Because its infrastructure and community-based resettlement networks have been decimated in recent years, the main challenges of subsequent administrations, Congresses, and USRAP stakeholders will be to rebuild, revitalize, and regain broad and bipartisan support for the program. This article also recommends specific ways that USRAP’s programs and services can be strengthened.
The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is an international Catholic organization with a mission to accompany, serve, and advocate on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, that they may heal, learn, and determine their own future. In this episode of CMSOnAir, Joan Rosenhauer, the Executive Director of JRS-USA, shares how JRS is adapting its advocacy for a new administration and transforming its programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She also shares stories about the “proactive, resilient, hopeful” refugees she has met through her work with JRS.
In an Executive Order signed on February 3, 2021, President Joe Biden promised a thorough review of the US refugee admissions program as well as the Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) under which Afghans and Iraqis endangered by their association with the US government are admitted. He also announced that the United States will resettle 125,000 refugees in Fiscal Year 2022 and consult with Congress to increase this year’s admissions quota as a down payment. These promises offer hope to thousands of refugees who have been awaiting resettlement, often for years and still more often in precarious settings. Fulfilling this promise will not come easily, however. The new administration has scant time to rebuild a program that the Trump administration sought to destroy.
With a new year on the horizon and the world focused on the coronavirus pandemic, another harsh winter has arrived at the door of the squalid refugee camps where hundreds of thousands struggle to survive and retain their human dignity. Many harsh winters have passed over Syrian and many other refugees with what seems like total indifference from the world’s governments, including some who were strongly committed to refugee acceptance in the past.
This report analyzes the US refugee resettlement program – known as “USRAP” (the US Refugee Admissions Program) – leveraging data from a national survey of resettlement stakeholders conducted in 2020. The survey examined USRAP from the time that refugees arrive in the United States. The survey’s design and questionnaire were informed by three community gatherings organized by Refugee Council USA in the fall and winter of 2019, extensive input from an expert advisory group, and a literature review.
This report finds that USRAP serves important purposes, enjoys extensive community support, and offers a variety of effective services. Overall, the survey finds a high degree of consensus on the US resettlement program’s strengths and objectives, and close alignment between its services and the needs of refugees at different stages of their settlement and integration. Because USRAP’s infrastructure and community-based resettlement networks have been decimated in recent years, the Biden administration’s main challenges will be to rebuild and revitalize the program, educate the public on it, and try to regain broad, bi-partisan support for it. The report also points to specific ways in which USRAP’s programs and services should be strengthened.
Nadra and Ghazel first came to North America as refugees. Today, they participate in their communities as mothers, teachers, learners, and leaders. Although much of the literature on refugee resettlement focuses on refugee-serving agencies, refugee women can have a profound impact on fellow refugees in their new home communities. Interviews from 2017 and 2019 with Nadra and Ghazel about their post-resettlement experiences reveal insight into both the nature and effects of moral agency under constraint. The constraints refugee women encounter in the United States operate like a downward-turning spiral; with each twist of the “spiral,” a new obstacle appears that makes overcoming subsequent obstacles all the more daunting. However, Nadra’s and Ghazel’s narratives indicate that acts of moral agency—characterized by hopeful risk, holistic care, and future-oriented imagination—can reverse the direction of the spiral by lowering barriers to integration and expanding opportunities for refugee women, their families, and their communities to thrive.
Uganda has long promoted refugee self-reliance as a sustainable livelihood strategy with progressive land-allocation and free-movement-for-work policies. Framed as a dialogue with Oxford University Refugee Studies Centre (“the Centre”), this article explores sustainable solutions that benefit refugees as well as the host populations that receive them. It explores the self-reliance opportunities that depend on the transnational, national, and local markets in which refugees participate. It acknowledges the Centre’s substantial work and welcomes its focus on economic outcomes. For Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Uganda, however, the discussion of “refugee economies” may not be complete without problematizing the effects on the host populations living alongside the refugees.
This paper offers an historic review of the US refugee resettlement program. It spans the colonial era, to the establishment of the first distinct US admissions policies for persons fleeing persecution in 1917, to the creation of the formal US Refugee Admissions Program in 1980, and to the Trump administrations’ denigration of and attempts to eviscerate the program. It proposes ways that a new administration can rebuild this crucially important program and put it on more secure footing. In particular, it recommends that a new administration:
- Reframe the discourse on refugee resettlement to emphasize its central importance to the nation’s identity and the way it serves the national interest.
- Rebuild the capacity of the federal government to administer the program and the badly depleted community-based resettlement infrastructure that is central to the program’s success.
- Hold emergency consultations with Congress to increase refugee admissions in Fiscal Year 2021, and consult soon after the inauguration with international, state and local, and non-governmental partners to plan FY 2022 resettlement goals, including a robust admissions ceiling and budget.
- Reform and reinvigorate federal consultations with states and localities to ensure their receptivity, capacity and support for refugees, and eliminate the current veto power of states and municipalities over resettlement in their jurisdictions.
- Explore legislative fixes to the refugee admissions process and attempt to depoliticize the process by setting a “normal flow level” that does not require an annual Presidential determination.
- Join the Global Compact on Refugees, which seeks to expand the availability of durable solutions for refugees, and encourage other nations to follow the U.S. example of resettling larger numbers of refugees.