US de­cline in refugee ac­cep­tance steep­ens

The Columbus Dispatch - - Front Page - By Danae King

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.”

[GEMUNU AMARASINGHE/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS]

Newly ar­rived Ro­hingya Mus­lims from Myan­mar walk as they con­tinue their jour­ney into a camp for refugees in Tek­naf, Bangladesh, on Oct. 2.

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