War in Ukraine and the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan have brought renewed attention to the need for increased U.S. refugee resettlement, but worldwide resettlement slots represent only a fraction of global need.
In 2022, more than 7 million Ukrainians joined a historically large global refugee population—many from crises that have continued for years. In 2021, Syria, South Sudan, and Venezuela together accounted for roughly 60% of refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, and the number of displaced Afghans rose sharply over the last year.
The United States and other donor countries must step up
Refugee resettlement is a global issue and the international community’s collective responsibility. In 2023, more than 2 million refugees are projected to be in need of immediate resettlement—an increase of 36% from 2022.
Refugee resettlement has historically received bipartisan support in the United States. Yet, in recent years, resettlement has become a politically contentious issue. The previous U.S. administration made dismantling refugee resettlement a cornerstone of its isolationist foreign policy, cutting the Presidential Determination by 86%—from 110,000 under the Obama Administration to 15,000 in fiscal year 2021.
The long-term consequences of this politicization have been far-reaching. For fiscal year 2022, the Biden Administration set a refugee admissions goal of 125,000. While over 100,000 Afghans and Ukrainians arrived in the United States under temporary humanitarian parole in the past year, as of August 31, only 19,919 refugees have been resettled under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. For fiscal year 2023, President Biden has again proposed a refugee admissions ceiling of 125,000.
The Biden Administration has shown its commitment to a humanitarian agenda as the largest contributor to annual humanitarian assistance—accounting for roughly 47% of global humanitarian spending in 2022. Still, demonstrating global leadership means leading at home too.
Moving forward, the Biden Administration must cement progress toward rebuilding an efficient and welcoming resettlement process. InterAction and Refugee Council USA support the administration’s private sponsorship schemes for Afghans and Ukrainians as an additive to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Still, we call on the administration to prioritize rebuilding and strengthening the USRAP.
The United States must lead at U. N. General Assembly (UNGA) and the Global Refugee Forum
InterAction and Refugee Council USA urge the Biden Administration to use UNGA77, the Global Compact on Refugees, and the Global Refugee Forum to reclaim its global leadership role in refugee protection and resettlement. The United States must match its vision for refugee resettlement with the ambition and resources needed to uphold its commitments.
At the UNHCR High-Level Officials meeting in 2021, the United States committed to building back its resettlement capacity and infrastructure in pursuit of improved global outcomes, and to engaging refugees in the process meaningfully.
Now, it must take concrete steps to put commitments into practice.
The U.S. should establish a clear timeline to scale up resettlement through the USRAP, including improvements to health and security screenings, and encourage other donor countries at UNGA to follow up on existing commitments with new pledges under the Global Compact on Refugees.
Additionally, the U.S. should continue to ensure that refugees are meaningfully engaged in identifying priorities and contributing to the solutions that advance the U.S. commitment to protection and resettlement.
We call on the United States to lead by example and exercise its influence in the international arena to encourage other countries to step up efforts to welcome refugees, treat asylum-seekers with dignity, and jointly advance the principles of the Global Compact on Refugees. InterAction, Refugee Council USA, and our combined 200+ Member organizations look forward to working with the U.S. government in the leadup to the December 2023 Global Refugee Forum to advance these aims.