Zero refugees resettled to the US in October; thousands left in state of uncertainty

Retired engineer John Wider, 59, is greeted by a supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump as he holds up a sign reading 'Welcome Refugees' at the international arrivals terminal at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 29, 2017.
Retired engineer John Wider, 59, is greeted by a supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump as he holds up a sign reading "Welcome Refugees" at the international arrivals terminal at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 29, 2017. | (Photo: REUTERS/Mike Blake)

Zero refugees were admitted into the United States during October despite worsening humanitarian situations around the world, the evangelical resettlement agency World Relief has warned. 

Although over 1,889 refugees were resettled to the U.S. in October 2018, not a single refugee was resettled in the U.S. in the past month due to an unusual pause placed by the State Department on refugee admissions. 

Even though a proposal was announced in late September to cap the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. in the fiscal year 2020 at 18,000, it was not until last Friday that President Donald Trump officially signed off on the proposal. The new annual ceiling — down from 30,000 in the fiscal year 2019 — is the lowest refugee ceiling set by the U.S. government since the passage of the U.S. Refugee Act in 1980.

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According to World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals which has resettled over 300,000 refugees since 1979, the pause on refugee admissions led to hundreds of canceled flights and pushed thousands of refugees set to come to the U.S. into a state of uncertainty. 

Of the hundreds of flights canceled, 126 of them were scheduled to transport refugees that World Relief was slated to help resettle. Nearly all of the refugees that World Relief was tapped to help were expecting to be reunited with family members who are already living in the U.S. 

Additionally, some refugees who were supposed to come to the U.S. last month face expiring security checks and run the risk of having to wait until they are cleared by another round of screening before they can enter the country.

“It’s a shame that at a time when we’re facing the world’s worst refugee crisis since World War II, and we’re seeing the ongoing new displacement of Syrians, Rohingya and others, that the U.S. has accepted zero refugees this month, for the first time in our records,” World Relief Vice President of Advocacy and Policy Jenny Yang said in a statement. “We should be doing more, not less, and keeping the door open to protect the persecuted who have no safe place to go.”

According to World Relief’s records, the previous average for refugees resettled to the U.S. during the last five Octobers was 4,945 refugees.

“This isn’t just heartbreaking — it’s unjust,” World Relief President Scott Arbeiter said in a statement. “Withdrawing our troops from Syria meant unleashing chaos in the region and forcing even more people to flee their homes. To refuse to open our doors is to abdicate responsibility for a scenario to which we as a nation have contributed. I urge the administration to reconsider its approach and set a cap that better represents the compassion and hospitality of the American people.”

CNN reports that although there is typically a pause in arrivals during the first week in October, the restarting of the refugee admissions process had been delayed three times throughout October. A State Department spokesperson told the news outlet that the moratorium pausing the refugee admissions process will run at least through Tuesday. 

"We will work with our implementing partners to plan for a resumption of refugee arrivals, including rescheduling travel for those affected by the extension," the spokesperson said in a statement.

The United Nations estimates that at least 1.4 million displaced people in over 60 refugee-hosting countries will need resettlement in 2020. 

“While we’re grateful to the administration for putting back into motion the refugee arrival processes that have stalled for a whole month, we continue to advocate resettlement levels commensurate with the global need,” Arbeiter stressed. “We will continue to serve those in our care with joy, but we mourn the lives who will not find a haven from the many global conflicts as a result of this reduction in the refugee ceiling.”

Since taking office, the Trump administration has continually reduced the national cap on refugee resettlement. While about 30,000 refugees were resettled in the U.S. in the fiscal year 2019, nearly 85,000 refugees were resettled to the U.S. during the last fiscal year of the Obama administration from 2016 to 2017. 

As CNS News points out, the refugee ceiling ranged from 78,000 to 142,000 during the Clinton administration, 70,000 to 80,000 under the George W. Bush administration and 70,000 to 85,000 under the Obama administration. 

Many critics, including evangelical leaders, have spoken out about the implications of further reducing the refugee ceiling and have called for the U.S. to raise the cap. 

World Relief called for the Trump administration to implement a refugee cap of 95,000 refugees resettled in the fiscal year 2019. Meanwhile, the Evangelical Immigration Table has in the past called for a cap of at least 75,000.

Under the new refugee declaration, only 5,000 resettlement spots will be allocated to people claiming religious persecution, while 4,000 are allocated for Iraqis who aided the U.S. during the Iraq War. Meanwhile, 1,500 spots are dedicated to nationals or residents of Northern Triangle countries El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. 

World Relief CEO Tim Breene voiced concern about the drastically declining number of Christian refugees being resettled from countries ranked as the worst places in the world when it comes to Christian persecution. 

“From 2016-2019, the number of Christian refugees resettled from 50 countries on the Open Doors USA World Watch List plummeted by 64.8 percent,” Breene warned. “We believe the cap’s 5,000 reserved spots in 2020 for persecuted religious minorities grossly underestimates the global need and forfeits the U.S.’ urgent responsibility to provide global leadership in this area.”

Since the passage of the Refugee Act in 1980, over 3 million refugees have been resettled to the U.S.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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