Vernuccio’s View: World Refugee Numbers Soar

The U.S. State Department has issued its latest report on worldwide refugee conditions.

At the end of 2017 (the most recent figure available) the estimated refugee population worldwide stood at 25.4 million, with 17.2 million receiving protection or assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  America supports efforts to provide protection, assistance, and durable solutions for refugees “because these measures meet both the humanitarian objectives and the national security interests of the United States.”  The U.S. government works with other governments, international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees, internally displaced persons, victims of conflict, and other vulnerable migrants.

In seeking durable solutions for refugees, the United States and UNHCR recognized that, for most refugees, safe, voluntary return to their homelands was the preferred solution.  Where opportunities for return remained elusive, the United States and its partners pursued self-sufficiency and temporary, indefinite, or permanent local integration in countries of asylum.  The State Department worked diplomatically to encourage host governments to protect refugees through local integration, and provided assistance to meet integration needs by promoting refugee self-sufficiency and community-based social services.

The United States and UNHCR also recognized resettlement in third countries was a vital tool for providing refugees protection and/or durable solutions, particularly those for whom other solutions were not feasible.  For some refugees, resettlement was the best, and perhaps only, alternative. 

 The United States has admitted more than three million refugees from 64 countries since 1975, including 22,491 in 2018, through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).  UNHCR or a U.S. embassy may refer nationals of any country to the U.S. program for reasons of religious persecution.  Over 75 percent of the refugees resettled in the United States in FY 2018 had fled five countries: The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burma, Ukraine, Bhutan, and Eritrea.  Protracted conflicts have driven millions from their homes in these nations.  

Over 70 percent of resettled refugees are women and children.  Many are single mothers; survivors of torture; people who need urgent medical treatment; religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons; or others imperiled by violence and persecution.

 Refugee admissions are provided to those with special humanitarian needs, as defined by the President.  There are three categories (known as “priorities”) of individuals eligible under the refugee program:

Priority 1: Individual cases referred by designated entities to the program by virtue of their circumstances and apparent need for resettlement.

 Priority 2: Groups of special concern designated by the Department of State as having  access to the program by virtue of their circumstances and apparent need for resettlement.

Priority 3: Individual cases from designated nationalities granted access for purposes of reunification with family members already in the United States.

The State Department broke down the 2018 refugee numbers on a regional basis.

In 2018, 10,459 refugees from Africa were admitted to the United States, including some admitted based on religious persecution.  Two countries of origin – DRC and Eritrea – still account for the vast majority of U.S. refugee admissions from Africa, followed by Ethiopia, Somalia, and Burundi. 3,668 refugees from East Asia were admitted, along with  3,797 refugees from the Near East/South Asia regions. 3,612 refugees came from Europe and Central Asia. 955 refugees from Latin America and the Caribbean were resettled in the United States.

A Reason Magazine study reported that the global population of refugees (minus the 5.3 million registered with the U.N. Relief and Work Agency for Palestinians in the Near East), was stable between 2008–2012, at between 10.4 million and 10.6 million, but since then, it has accelerated sharply. There were 11.7 million in 2013, 14.4 million in 2014, 16.1 million in 2015, 17.2 million in 2016, and 20.1 million in 2017.

Frank Vernuccio serves as Editor-in-Chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government.

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