The Biden administration resettled fewer than 300 refugees in April, pacing for an historic low this year

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Faith leaders and members of human rights groups wearing a life vests symbolizing the life-saving program, march outside of the US Capitol on Oct. 15, 2019, in Washington.

  • The United States resettled just 271 refugees in April, according to new data from the State Department.
  • The US has thus far resettled 2,334 refugees in the current fiscal year, an historic low.
  • President Biden recently raised the admissions cap to 62,500, but warned he would not meet that goal.
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The United States resettled only 271 refugees in April, according to new data from an organization within the US State Department, putting the country on track to accept fewer than 5,000 displaced persons before the current fiscal year ends in September – an historic low.

Just under 12,000 refugees were resettled in the last full fiscal year of the previous administration, down from an average of about 80,000.

From last October through April 30 the US had resettled 2,334 refugees, according to the data released Thursday.

President Joe Biden campaigned on revitalizing the refugee admissions program, promising to reverse the cuts made by his predecessor who campaigned against accepting people fleeing war and repression – and launched racist attacks against those already here. In Biden’s first full fiscal year, which starts October 2021, the president has committed to resettling as many as 125,000 refugees.

But the number of people resettled has declined each month that Biden has been in office. And the administration recently waffled on just how many refugees it planned to accept this year.

After first saying it would find new homes for 62,500 people this fiscal year, in an April notice to Congress the White House elected not to touch the cap of 15,000 set by the last occupant of the White House; its new position was that it would only consider raising that number should the limit be reached.

After a backlash, President Biden announced on May 3 that he would be committing to his previous goal. Still, he added, “The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,5000 admissions this year,” saying his administration needs time “to undo the damage of the last four years.”

He’s not wrong. By all accounts, the resettlement program – which relies on the assistance of nine nongovernmental organizations to place refugees in their new communities, setting them up with homes and careers – was nearly obliterated.

“It was really challenging,” Jenny Yang, senior vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief, a Christian charitable organization, said of the previous four years. Her group closed a third of its offices, including ones that “had been in certain communities for over 20 years,” letting go dozens of staffers. It will need time to rebuild.

But Yang, like many others who work with refugees, was disappointed when the Biden administration appeared to let the politics of immigration – Republicans capitalizing on the increase in unaccompanied minors seeking asylum – overwrite its previously stated committement to letting in refugees that the last White House kept out. It was not just confused messaging, she said of the back and forth, but a mark of indecision.

“It started to become a little bit overwhelmed at what was happening at the border, and it led to them backtracking on their promise,” she said.

World Relief is under “no illusion” that it and other aid groups will resettle some 60,000 refugees before October. But without an aspirational goal, you are not only guaranteed not to exceed expectations, but signal that refugees are not a priority, both to the world and to the bureaucracy that needs to be kicked into gear.

Last month’s resettlement figures, perhaps, reflect the confusion at the White House. With a clear goal, it is possible there will now be an acceleration.

“I think now we’re in a good place,” Yang said, “and we’re hopeful that we can really build back the program better than it was before.”

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Biden should airlift vulnerable people out of Afghanistan before US forces withdrawal, refugee group urges

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Children pose for photographs in front of their tents at a camp for internally displaced families in Panjwai district of Kandahar province on March 31, 2021.

  • The US should consider “large-scale airlifts” of vulnerable people before leaving Afghanistan, a refugee group said.
  • Afghans could be relocated to US military bases or the US itself.
  • More than 17,000 people in Afghanistan who worked with the US government are still waiting for their visas.
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Before the US government leaves Afghanistan, it needs to find a way to protect the many people who will be left behind, even if that requires the same mass-scale airlifts that accompanied the fall of Saigon.

That’s according to the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), a human rights group that lobbies for the displaced. In recommendations outlined Monday, it called on the Biden administration to resettle many more refugees from Afghanistan, including those who worked with the US government as well as journalists, activists, and others who risk being targeted by the Taliban.

“Time is running out for the US government to offer humanitarian protection to Afghans whose lives will be under threat after US withdrawal,” Adam Bates, the group’s policy counsel, said in a statement.

President Joe Biden announced earlier this month he plans to remove the last US troops in Afghanistan by September 11, marking two decades of war and occupation. He has pledged, however, to continue supporting the Afghan government, as well as conduct counter-terrorism missions as need be.

Afghans already compose one of the world’s largest group of refugees, with 2.7 million having fled their country by mid-2020, according to the United Nations. The fear is, after the US pulls out, the number seeking a better life abroad will skyrocket.

Already there is a backlog of more than 17,000 Afghans seeking special immigrant visas, which are awarded to those who worked with the US government. A total of 26,500 such visas have been allocated since 2014, per the US State Department. IRAP is urging the Biden administration to “surge” resources to the program to fastrack resettlement.

But many more will be seeking protection. The White House has committed to raising the annual cap on refugee admissions to 125,000 by next fiscal year — but that does not kick until October. In the meantime, the US should to “parole” Afghan candidates, exempting them from this year’s as yet undetermined cap and allow them to apply for more permanent status from the safety of the US. It should facilitate their transport, IRAP said, with “large-scale airlifts,” including to US military bases that could act as immigrant processing centers.

In 1975, after it had already withdrawn its own soldiers, the US military evacuated thousands of civilians by helicopter from Saigon after North Vietnamese forces overran the city, now named after Communist leader Ho Chi Minh.

“The United States must act now to protect vulnerable Afghans or risk a humanitarian catastrophe in the region,” Bates said. “President Biden should use all his power to protect these Afghan civilians.”

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