WASHINGTON, United States — The United States is on course this year to welcome the lowest number of refugees since its resettlement program began in 1980, as President Donald Trump escalates his anti-immigration rhetoric.
America has historically been by far the most generous destination for those fleeing war and persecution, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended its record Wednesday on World Refugee Day.
But, even as many Americans recoil at images of child asylum seekers separated from their families at the US border, official figures show a dramatic drop in refugees accepted for resettlement.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference in Amman, Jordan, on April 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Stringer)
And this when the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has pointed to a global crisis fed by wars in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia — and when the United States remains the top preferred destination.
Already last year, Trump had slashed the number for refugees that Washington is prepared to accept to a historic low of 45,000 — down from 110,000 in the last fiscal year under Barack Obama.
But between October 1 and June 15, two thirds of the way through the 2018 fiscal year, only 15,383 of the most vulnerable, chosen mainly from camps in Africa and the Middle East, had been admitted.
Refugee advocates and resettlement agencies said this puts the United States on course to accept fewer than 25,000 refugees — fewer than in any year since 1977 and down from 84,994 in 2016.
The program formally began in 1980 with the passage of the US Refugee Act, but State Department admissions figures go back to 1975.
“Refugee resettlement to the US has been ground to a halt,” the major non-profit International Rescue Committee declared in a highly critical report timed to coincide with World Refugee Day.
A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the US-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas (John Moore/Getty Images/AFP)
Independent advocacy group Refugees International gave Washington a failing “F” grade in its Refugee Day report card and accused Trump of misleading the public about the danger of accepting Muslims.
Despite America having accepted around a million refugees since the September 11, 2001 attacks, not one has been convicted of an act of violence resulting in an American death, the group said.
Nevertheless, the group alleged, the admissions program has been “crippled” and the separation of families seeking asylum is “inhumane.”
On Tuesday, Trump made clear his position on asylum seekers on the southern US border, declaring “I don’t want people coming in” and alleging they have rehearsed exaggerated claims of persecution.
But refugees arriving under the resettlement program are vetted abroad by US security and intelligence agencies and chosen mainly from at-risk groups in UN-registered camps — the elderly, widows and disabled.
Nevertheless, with ever more stringent checks pushing the vetting process to greater length, the numbers are down, de facto inching Trump closer to his 2016 campaign pledge to ban all Muslim immigration.
Pompeo defended the system in his World Refugee Day message, noting that the United States remains a humanitarian leader which has provided $8 billion in aid this year to help war and disaster victims.
“This assistance is provided as close to refugees’ homes as possible in order to facilitate their voluntary, safe, and dignified return if and when conditions allow,” he said.
US President Donald Trump signs an executive order to keep families together at the border, but says that the ‘zero-tolerance’ prosecution policy will continue, during an event in the Oval Office of the White House, on June 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
While not addressing the numbers coming through the system today, Pompeo noted correctly that the United States has resettled 3.3 million people — more than any other country — since the program began.
He said “global displacement has reached record levels” and urged governments, financial institutions and the private sector to do more while the US will “prioritize the admission of the most vulnerable.”
And he vowed that the United States would continue to work to end the conflicts that have led to what the UNHCR says are 65.6 million displaced people around the world — a new record.
This piece originally appeared here