Trends In American Refugee Admissions Represents A Failure To Be A World Leader In The Refugee Crisis

The world is experiencing a humanitarian crisis more severe than any other period in time. The number of displaced people is growing constantly. At the end of 2019, there were 79.5 million displaced people. This is compared to 68.5 million at the end of 2017. It is during this period that the United States shrank its number of admitted refugees. The United States has failed to live up to its reputation as a global leader in this refugee crisis.

Refugees are people who have fled their home country and are applying for status in another country from a place outside their home country. It is common that they apply to a country where they land. There are naturally more refugees in countries neighbouring where the populations are fleeing from. In recent years, the amount of refugees from Venezuela has increased by 80,000% and neighboring Latin American countries are feeling the effects of it. The United States is not neighbouring many of the countries where refugees are originating, but there are many organizations that attempt to place refugees in the United States. Thus, the decrease in refugee admission in the United States has a big impact, despite the fact they are not neighbouring these countries. In fact, the United States has received the most applications in recent years, reaching 301,000.

The refugee crisis is worsening as climate change progresses and international conflicts are having catastrophic effects. The Syrian Civil War that began in 2011 has produced 5.6 million refugees. From December 1st, 2019 to February 20th, 2020, 900,000 people were displaced; within two months, almost one million new people were forced out of their homes. This is one of the ever-increasing number of conflicts that are disrupting people’s lives. Many Syrians have attempted to flee by going to Turkey. Turkey is one of the closest stable countries to the region, which makes it an ideal destination for refugees from the Middle East and some regions of North Africa. With this astronomical increase in refugees, Turkish refugee camps are lacking in secure infrastructure and supplies. As other countries close their borders to more refugees, Turkey’s resources are being depleted and the conditions that people who have fled horrendous situations have to endure are sickening.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, violent conflict has created unimaginable instability in the region. As of 2018, 35% of refugee applicants to the United States were from the DRC. Violence in the region has continued to cause unrest, even after the end of the civil war. An estimated 5 million people are currently displaced inside the country, while many from other countries also claim refugee status in the DRC. Alarming rates of human rights violations are being committed in the DRC. Over half of the displaced people in the country are women and children, who are most at risk for sexual exploitation and trafficking.

There is explicit evidence of the world’s humanitarian crisis in the case of Venezuela. Venezuela is a country that previously assisted in the refugee crisis by taking people in. However, with the election of President Chavez, corruption and violence have led to the largest exodus of people in this region in modern times. Even though there was a law passed restricting private gun ownership, the lack of gun control in the country has contributed to the corruption within government officials who have been terrorizing the general public. This crisis is not a result of a war, as Syria’s is, but rather the mishandling of resources by the government. Additionally, undernourishment is the highest it’s been in recent years, medical needs go unmet, and the economy is shrinking. There is massive insecurity in health, food, and housing that is driving people to seek sanctuary. With Venezuelans fleeing in record numbers, surrounding countries such as Mexico, Chile and Brazil’s resources are being stretched thin trying to accommodate the refugees. An estimated five million Venezuelans have fled and many do so without proper documentation, which makes them vulnerable to smugglers and traffickers. This is not a crisis that the world should be silent on. These people are not struggling because of personal choices, but because they are forced into situations out of their control and that do not sustain their well-being. Surrounding countries have been helpful in this crisis, but the international community has been largely silent on the issue. In response to the Syrian civil war, $7.4 billion was raised in the first four years of the conflict. Four years into the Venezuelan crisis, only $580 million has been raised.

Opportunities are being stripped from people around the world, and while some nations are answering the call to help, others are making it harder to continue to. Turkey has kept open borders, which was at first very helpful, but is not a lasting solution due to the lack of transportation elsewhere. This crisis cannot be solved with only a few countries providing assistance. This is a global crisis that requires a sustained and significant global effort.

However, in recent years the United States has substantially decreased the number of refugees admitted into the country. An important distinction must be made between immigrants and refugees. Immigrants are people who are choosing to move to another country without force and without the threat of violence. Immigrants are typically admitted for economic reasons; they will provide some sort of economic benefit to their new country. Refugees are not immigrants because refugees have to provide reasoning that they are under the threat of violence and cannot meet their needs in their country. They are desperate for safety and typically come to a country anticipating that they will return home when the situation that has led to their flight dissipates. Indeed, the goal of most humanitarian organizations is to return displaced peoples.

Limiting the number of accepted refugees during a time when there are more than ever is irresponsible as a world leader. However, the United States has consistently decreased the number of admitted refugees every year since 2016. The ceiling for the number of refugees accepted in a given year is set by the president. For most of Barack Obama’s presidency, the cap remained at 70,000 people. In 2015, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the Obama administration would be raising the limit to 85,000 in 2016 and 110,000 in 2017. The Trump administration took office in 2017 and ended up admitting only 53,000, instead of the proposed ceiling of 110,000 in the fiscal year of 2017. Comparatively, in 2016, President Obama admitted 84,988 out of the proposed ceiling of 85,000 refugees. In addition, in 2018 and 2019 Trump has dictated the ceiling lower and lower each year, at 45,000 and 30,000 respectively. In 2020, President Trump has assigned a ceiling that is the lowest in the history of the United States refugee program, at 18,000. At this same time, the United States has received the highest number of applications, at 301,000.

When considering the implications of limiting refugees for a developed and wealthy country, it becomes clear that this action only puts more pressure on already splintering open countries. Further, it creates domino situations like Lebanon, where small countries are taking in more refugees and cannot support it, and eventually close down in their own self-interest. The United States has never faced a crisis like Lebanon or Turkey in response to a mass influx of refugees. Among the reasons why is its massive wealth, and proportionately large population and space. While many neighbouring countries have seen overpopulation of refugee facilities and the negative effects that come with that, such as an increase in sickness, malnourishment, and violence, the United States typically benefits from refugees coming into their country. The United States has infrastructure and systems built to accommodate and acclimate refugees to new surroundings. Most refugees are of working age and have similar or higher rates of employment than native-born Americans. In fact, billions of dollars have been funnelled into the American economy from the investment in refugees. The United States is not burdened by its geographic location and being so it should use the wealth of resources it has as a developed country. The creation of the American refugee crisis is a false narrative. Relying on less wealthy and less expansive countries to be the primary caregiver for mass amounts of people is irresponsible and unsustainable.

There is a mischaracterization of refugees as a national security threat. Refugees are coming to new countries because of a dire need to escape their own. The assumption that letting in refugees puts the United States at risk for terrorist attacks is relatively unfounded being that the last refugee to commit an act of terror on American soil was in 1975. These false narratives about the immediacy of the crisis in the United States cause unnecessary harm to the refugee program and its prospects.

In the face of a worldwide humanitarian crisis and an increase in displaced peoples to a detrimental level, the U.S. has refused its responsibility set by previous precedents to be a world leader in the face of this crisis. The U.S. and other developed countries belong to many treaties and organizations that attempt to assist in global conflicts. The U.S. has often called itself the world’s police and the strongest country in the world. Many of these claims are well-founded since they have contributed significantly to the global economy and military operations. It is clear that the refugee crisis and the number of overall displaced people in the world is not something to stand down from. The United States, as an important world player, needs to stand up for the refugees and the countries that can no longer can support them in the capacity they have been. Limiting the number of refugees to extraordinary lows each year while the number of refugees is constantly growing shows an abandonment of humanitarian interests. This is a global issue with global solutions. One of the most prepared and resourceful countries in the world cannot turn a blind eye to the millions suffering and dying. Families are travelling in unsafe waters on rafts, losing children on the way whose bodies they must leave with the sea. Families who have finally arrived at a country that is not war-torn are losing people to avoidable diseases and terrible conditions. An ocean cannot separate America from its humanity. The humanitarian crisis going on on the other side of the world is an opportunity for the U.S. to provide necessary assistance and the possibility of a better life. There is nothing more idealistically American than the right that someone has to make a better life for themselves.

Keely Bastow

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