Statement On World Refugee Day
June 20, 2023
Statement of Mario Russell
Center for Migration Studies of New York
World Refugee Day
June 20, 2023
Today marks a time on the calendar when we celebrate the gifts of refugees and are reminded of the suffering of millions of displaced people in the world. Today I am beginning my second week as the new Executive Director of the Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS), a position that I am honored and privileged to hold, particularly on World Refugee Day.
Recognizing the human rights and dignity of those who flee their homes to find safe haven in another country is a matter of justice. Refugees bring their skills and culture to our local communities, enriching us as a nation and as a world community. They build our society and always bring us closer to what is possible and good. They deserve our support and our protection.
The situation of refugees and others on the move is worsening globally. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were a record 108.4 million persons displaced in 2022, over 19 million more than in 2021. More than one-third were refugees and over half were internally displaced. This is a tragic and unsustainable situation that requires both better understanding and sound answers. The work of CMS, which is to develop evidence-based policy solutions, conduct research on national and international migration issues, and provide community education, is to identify those answers through a human rights lens.
Most recently, through its academic journal, the Journal on Migration and Human Security, CMS released a volume on the protracted displacement of refugees and the internally displaced, which can be found here. The volume offers an examination of the situations of populations such as Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, internally displaced persons living outside Baku, Azerbaijan, and Syrians living in Turkey since 2011, among other groups.
For years, the United States has been a leader in refugee protection. However, due to changes in administration, shifting refugee admissions policies, and the COVID-19 pandemic, our nation has most recently fallen back in its commitment to resettling refugees in the United States.
While progress is being made to restore the US Refugee Admissions program to its former capacity, more must be done. In late 2020, CMS, in conjunction with Refugee Council USA, issued a study of the refugee admissions program, with recommendations for reform of the program, which can be found here. The study called for a greater investment in the program by Congress and improvements in services provided to arriving refugees, including job placement and language instruction.
For those refugees and migrants who arrive at our borders in search of safety, our nation also has taken a step back in protecting them. The recent blanket rule denying asylum to any person who first failed to apply for protection in a transit country contradicts long-standing US law and international norms. Our asylum system needs to be reformed to make it more efficient, but it should be fair. It should not block access to asylum to the families, children, women, and men who are qualified for protection. Our nation’s commitment to respond to asylees and refugees, regardless of where and how they arrive, is storied and foundational. Eroding that commitment by design or by neglect—such as through immigration court backlogs as reported by CMS here—is wrong.
On World Refugee Day, we are reminded that refugees want the same thing we all want: an opportunity to live and raise their families in dignity and safety. Their contributions to our country are indisputable and immeasurable, and CMS will continue to work to highlight the challenges they face and the need for compassionate and just treatment, both in the United States and worldwide. And so I ask that you consider making a contribution to CMS today by clicking here. As Executive Director, I fully commit myself to pursue these ends, hopeful that, in time, they will be achieved.
C. Mario Russell
June 20, 2023