In Order to Meet Its 2023 Refugee Resettlement Target, the United States Can Draw From Numerous Refugee Crises Globally
October 26, 2022
In order to meet its 2023 refugee resettlement target, the United States can draw from numerous refugee crises globally
Fiscal year 2022 was a busy year for the United States in terms of protecting refugee populations, particularly Afghans and Ukrainians. The United States accepted close to 80,000 Afghans following its military withdrawal from Afghanistan, and about 100,000 Ukrainians from Ukraine following the February 2022 Russian invasion of that country.
Unfortunately, the large majority of those populations were brought into the country under humanitarian parole, which grants them only temporary status in the country and limits their ability to access basic services, such as health-care and housing.
The US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), the normal resettlement pathway which provides permanent status and federal benefits to resettled refugees, accepted only 25,465 refugees in FY 2022—80 percent below the presidential determination of 125,000.
While the administration pointed to the weakened resettlement system caused by the Trump administration and the COVID pandemic as reasons for the low numbers, its focus on the crises in Afghanistan and Ukraine—two areas with direct US national security and military interests—no doubt was another factor contributing to the low USRAP numbers.
In fact, refugee admissions to the United States have hit new lows over the past several years, with only 11,814 resettled in FY 2020, and an all-time low of 11,411 resettled in FY 2021, the first full budget year of the Biden administration. At the same time, the number of refugees worldwide has almost doubled over the past ten years, from 15.4 million in 2012 to 27.1 million at the end of 2021.
On September 26, President Biden signed a presidential determination of 125,000 refugee admissions for FY 2023, with a promise that the administration would come much closer to that total in the number of refugees resettled this fiscal year. The State Department has as many as 76,000 refugees waiting in the “pipeline,” refugees who have gone through the interview process but have yet to be cleared to travel. This represents good news, as there are a number of refugee crises around the world from which the United States could accept refugees in need of resettlement and meet the ceiling of 125,000.
Here are a few populations who should receive their due consideration for resettlement from the US government in FY 2023:
Rohingya in Bangladesh. The Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority in Myanmar who have been subjected to persecution and violence by the military junta in that country for decades. In 2017, the Rohingya were subject to violence and ethnic cleansing in northern Myanmar by the military junta, which is being investigated as genocide by the International Criminal Court.
During that time, 700,000 Rohingya fled to southeast Bangladesh. At present, there are 1.2 million Rohingya refugees within 34 camps in Bangladesh, with the largest one, the Kutupalong in the Cox’s Bazar district of southeastern Bangladesh, holding around 800,000 refugees. The camps are overpopulated and squalid, and insecurity makes violence in the camps a common occurrence.
The recent takeover of Myanmar by the military junta has left the Rohingya in Bangladesh justifiably afraid to return home. Nevertheless, the Bangladeshi government, feeling pressure from their own poverty-stricken population, has threatened to either push them back, or send them to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal.
A commitment from the United States to resettle a significant number of Rohingya in the United States would discourage Bangladesh from deporting the Rohingya and encourage other nations to resettle portions of the population. It is clear that the return of this population to Myanmar will not occur anytime soon, and because of violence and disease in the camps, vulnerable refugees, especially women and children, remain unsafe in Bangladesh.
Venezuelans. More than 7 million Venezuelans have fled political violence and economic collapse in their home country, which has been governed by a corrupt and authoritarian government for 20 years. They have fled mainly to surrounding countries—Brazil, Colombia, and other South American and Caribbean nations—but many are beginning to migrate north to the United States.
As such, the United States recently announced that Venezuelans who enter the United States between ports of entry would be returned to Mexico under Title 42, which allows for returns based on health-care concerns—specifically the spread of COVID-19. Under the new policy, the administration would parole Venezuelans seeking asylum into a private sponsorship plan and have them fly to the United States at their own expense—up to a total of 24,000. Advocates claim that only wealthy Venezuelans with US ties would be able to access the program.
While accepting even a paltry number of Venezuelan asylum-seekers is encouraging, Venezuelans should be channeled through the US refugee program, where they would receive permanent residence and access to benefits that would promote their self-sufficiency. Establishing refugee processing in a neighboring country, such as Colombia, would be more orderly and would give the most vulnerable Venezuelans access to US resettlement.
It also would encourage Colombia, Brazil, and other nations to keep their borders open to Venezuelans in the future. The United States cannot ignore such a historic refugee crisis in its own backyard.
Ethiopians. A full scale refugee crisis has been evolving in and around Ethiopia’s Tigray, Amhara, and Afar region since late 2020, when armed conflict broke out between the government and rebel groups for control of the area. Since the onset of the conflict, three million persons have been displaced and more than 60,000 refugees have escaped to Sudan.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, nearly 30,000 refugees who have fled to eastern Sudan live in a makeshift refugee camp in Tunyadbah-Gedaref state, many of whom are separated or unaccompanied children. Displaced and refugees fleeing Tigray are in need of shelter, food, and water, as well as other relief items, including blankets, sleeping mats, and other basic necessities.
While foreign assistance is needed to ease the suffering, many refugees remain in danger, and prospects for their safe return in the near future are slim. Sudan itself is experiencing unrest and does not have the infrastructure to protect the Ethiopian refugees indefinitely. US resettlement out of eastern Sudan would ease the burden on that country and signal to the world that the United States cares about Africa.
Syrians. The largest refugee crisis in the Middle East remains the Syrian refugee population of 6.9 million, the product of a civil conflict which began in 2010. About 5.2 million Syrian refugees reside in countries such as Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, placing strain on their resources. While the conflict has fallen out of the headlines, the burden on these countries continues, as it remains unsafe for Syrian refugees to return to certain areas of their country.
While the United States has resettled about 21,000 Syrian refugees since 2011, European countries have taken the bulk of Syrians leaving the region—over one million refugees. In fact, the United States slowed down resettling Syrians from the region during the COVID-19 pandemic, as only 1,256 Syrian refugees were admitted to the United States in 2021 and 4,556 in 2022, down from a high of 12,587 in 2016. The United States can and should return to the numbers of 2016, if not higher.
Afghans. While the United States accepted almost 80,000 Afghans in FY 2022, mainly through a humanitarian parole program, many others were unable to be evacuated by the US military and were forced to flee to other parts of the country or to neighboring countries. Afghans who assisted the United States during the conflict are particularly in danger, as reports indicate that the Taliban is seeking reprisals against them.
An estimated 777,400 Afghans were newly displaced inside the country by the end of 2021, 80 percent of whom are women and children. Over the past forty years, there are a total of 3.5 million displaced in the country and 2.6 million hosted in neighboring countries, particularly Pakistan (1.3 million), and Iran (760,0000). The United States has a moral obligation to protect many of the refugees left behind in the evacuation, especially those who assisted the United States during the war, because they are in extreme danger.
The United States rightly assisted Afghans and Ukrainians during FY 2022, but only a small number of each were resettled through the US refugee program. It is now time for the United States to pay attention to other refugee crises around the globe in an effort to share the burden with other nations. While Syria, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ethiopia, and the Rohingya in Bangladesh represent the most pressing crises, they are certainly not the only ones in need of attention, as a record 100 million displaced are in need of assistance around the globe.
The US State Department has as many as 76,000 refugees waiting in the “pipeline,” refugees who have gone through the interview process but have yet to be cleared to travel. Clearing this channel would be a good start, but the administration will need to increase its capacity to reach and interview other vulnerable populations in the field. If the Biden administration is unable to meet the refugee ceiling of 125,000 in FY 2023, it will not be because of a lack of refugees around the world who would benefit from US resettlement.
October 26, 2022