The year 2021 was not easy — the pandemic persisted, the number of people displaced around the world increased again, and governments continued to limit access to asylum. But the news was not all bad. Refugees International has also witnessed new pro-refugee policies, new funding for humanitarian aid, and increased commitments to support people seeking safety.
Here are a few reasons why last year gave us some hope for a better world in 2022 for displaced people:
- Colombia’s new residency permit life-changing for 1.7 million Venezuelans
In February 2021, Colombia granted ten-year residency permits, the right to work, and access to healthcare and education to 1.7 million displaced Venezuelans living in the country. As many displaced Venezuelans live in long-term legal limbo, Colombia’s policy is forward-thinking. The new permit, the Temporary Protected Statute for Venezuelan Migrants (EPTV), will provide Venezuelans several new safeguards, including protection from involuntary returns and reduction of exploitation risks, and will enable Venezuelans to better provide for themselves and their families. As the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue, this policy will be life-changing for many Venezuelans.
- Kenya passes historic Refugees Bill into law
For decades, Kenya has hosted one of the world’s largest refugee populations. Refugees in Kenya face economic and political challenges, such as limited rights to work, freedom of movement, and access to financial services. For all these reasons, Kenya’s historic decision to pass the Refugees Bill into law could be a game-changer for refugees. It could give many of the more than 500,000 refugees access to the Kenyan labor market, and has the potential to expand refugees’ rights and to make the document processing-system for work permits more efficient. All of this holds the promise of unlocking the potential for refugee self-sufficiency and contributions to the Kenyan economy.
- Progress to tackle climate displacement
In an Executive Order (EO) in February 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden directed the U.S. national security advisor to assess and report on the implications of climate change on global migration. This groundbreaking step sent a strong signal about both the importance of the climate and migration issue and the imperative of U.S. leadership. Shortly after issuance of the EO, Refugees International assembled a Task Force of stakeholders to deliver expert recommendations to the administration, including measures to strengthen protection for frontline communities and plans for resettlement. The subsequent White House report offered a range of important recommendations and established an agenda for progress. While this is only the beginning of the urgent effort to develop climate displacement solutions, it is a step in the right direction.
- Landmark UN report calls for increased protections for internally displaced people
People internally displaced within their own countries (IDPs) make up the largest group of displaced people in the world—roughly 55 million. But many countries are often unable or unwilling to protect those displaced within their own borders. In September 2021, a UN High Level Panel on Internal Displacement released a report calling on the international community to scale up protections for IDPs. Like refugees, IDPs have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict, or climate disasters—but because they don’t cross borders and remain within the jurisdiction of their countries of nationality, there are limited means to protect their rights and safety. This report is an important step in recognizing and meeting the needs and the rights of IDPs worldwide. Refugees International will seek to promote and build on the recommendations from this important UN report.
- The United States welcomes at-risk Afghans
In the aftermath of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s seizure of power in August 2021, hundreds of thousands of Afghans were left in dire need of protection. Several countries around the world stepped up to welcome Afghans in search of safety. The United States allocated more than $6 billion in emergency funding to support Afghans in October and another nearly $7 billion in December. The funding provides aid to Afghans still in Afghanistan, those who fled to surrounding countries, those on U.S. military bases, and tens of thousands of Afghans paroled into the United States. Congress has enabled paroled Afghans to receive many of the same benefits as resettled refugees. While these efforts have been crucial, the United States must do so much more to resettle tens of thousands of Afghans who remain at risk in Afghanistan and in countries of temporary refuge.
- U.S. Attorney General rolls back Trump-era restrictions on asylum eligibility
To be sure, Refugees International has been deeply concerned about a variety of Biden administration measures relating to asylum, such as resumption of the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols and Trump administration restrictions on access to asylum at the U.S. southern border. Nonetheless, we welcomed the Biden administration’s decision to vacate unreasonable measures that dramatically restricted asylum eligibility for people fleeing domestic or gang violence or violence targeting their families. These decisions primarily impacted Central Americans—and often victims of gender-based violence—seeking safety in the United States. Action to vacate these decisions (Matter of A-B- and Matter of L-E-A-) will help to ensure greater protections for individuals at grave risk and who are deserving of asylum.
- Measures to rebuild refugee resettlement in the United States
The former administration dramatically reduced U.S. refugee resettlement, with President Trump setting a FY21 refugee resettlement ceiling of 15,000—the lowest number since the start of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program in 1980. President Biden amended that ceiling to 62,500 for 2021, and, in September 2021, announced a ceiling of 125,000 refugees for 2022. Refugees International welcomes this stated commitment to increase refugee resettlement, but we are concerned that the administration has yet to build capacity and put in place the procedures necessary to ensure this commitment is realized.
Refugees International’s Communications & Design Manager, Aviva Shwayder, and Digital Engagement & Communications Manager, Audrey Smith contributed to this piece.
Banner Photo Caption: A volunteer welcomes an asylum seeker who was officially allowed to cross from a migrant camp in Mexico into the United States on February 25, 2021 in Brownsville, Texas. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.