US decline in refugee acceptance steepens
Long the country that welcomes the most refugees in the world, the United States is drastically slowing its acceptance of displaced people.
From 2014 to the present, the United States has not kept pace with surges in refugees as it has in years past, a fact highlighted by a Pew Research Center Study released Thursday.
There are more than 17.2 million refugees worldwide, but the United States is accepting only tens of thousands of them.
In 2017, the United States has accepted 28,000 refugees, fewer than half of the 97,000 resettled in 2016, according to the study, “U.S. Resettles Fewer Refugees, Even as Global Number of Displaced People Grows.”
Phillip Connor, senior researcher at Pew, said the study was prompted by an increased discussion of refugee resettlement in the past several months.
The study compares the number of refugees worldwide with the number arriving in the United States each year.
For years, the United States has accepted about 0.6 percent of the world’s refugees. In years when more people were displaced, the U.S. would accept more refugees. Until recently. Although the 2016 percentage was near that average, at 0.5 percent, it was lower than at previous high-displacement times and didn’t keep pace with the refugee population, according to the study.
“The refugee program has never been about what’s good for us. It’s about what’s good for the person who’s vulnerable,” said Angie Plummer, executive director of Community Refugee & Immigration Services, one of two refugee-resettlement agencies in Columbus.
Together, the agencies resettled upwards of 1,000 in the 2017 fiscal year, from October 2016 through September.
“We’ve had a program that’s helped to save hundreds of thousands of lives,” Plummer said.
Ohio falls in the middle among states in the number of refugees resettled, Connor said. Ohio hasn’t been among the top 10 states since 2002, but it’s not in the bottom 10, either.
Ohio’s refugee number has stayed well above 1,000 in each fiscal year from 2004 to 2017.
The research also showed that the characteristics of refugees have changed over time, Connor said. More refugees are being settled from the Middle East and Africa, meaning that they are also more often Muslim. In the most recent fiscal year, however, more Christians than Muslims were settled as refugees in the United States.
Karl Kaltenthaler, professor and director of graduate studies in the department of political science at the University of Akron, attributes the decrease in refugeeresettlement nationwide to fear. There has not only been more discussion about refugees, but also about terrorists.
Plummer agreed, saying, “I think it is a lot of fear.”
In September, the Trump administration announced that the cap for refugee resettlement for fiscal year 2018, which began this month, is 45,000.
“The whole reduction, it doesn’t make sense at a time when the world’s refugee population is larger than ever,” Plummer said. “No one’s advocating that the U.S. should take all the world’s refugees ... at 45,000, I worry about a lot of people here whose families are going to be left out because the slots are full.”
In years where the United States’ resettlement numbers were steady, there wasn’t as pronounced a fear of refugees as there is now, and refugees weren’t a big political issue, Kaltenthaler said.
Now, refugees are a hot political issue, and the administration reacts to public opinion. Then-President Barack Obama reacted when he lowered the percentage of refugees admitted to the United States, and President Donald Trump has done so as well, Kaltenthaler said.
“Xenophobia has been a potent part of the political scene,” he said. “Particularly in the last year.”
Newly arrived Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar walk as they continue their journey into a camp for refugees in Teknaf, Bangladesh, on Oct. 2.