4 Ways Humanitarian Aid is Linked to the Global Refugee Crisis

By Anashua Dutta, Assistant Campaigner, Amnesty International USA

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees now live in make-shift camps in Bangladesh and the surrounding region, unable to return to Myanmar due to the military’s brutal campaign. Over one-quarter of Lebanon’s population and one-fifth of Jordan’s population is made up of refugees. Somalia and Yemen, countries torn apart by civil war and struck by famine, have two of the largest internally-displaced populations in the world. In the midst of these humanitarian crises, the U.S. has shirked its responsibilities, declaring the lowest refugee admissions ceiling since the modern refugee resettlement program began in the early 1980s and ignoring the importance of funding for humanitarian programs abroad.

In February 2018, President Trump issued his budget for Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19), titled “An American Budget.” While this budget is merely the starting point for negotiations on the hill, it is the best indication we have of what the President and his administration prioritize. “An American Budget” slashes funding for the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) by $9 billion, a 26% decrease from 2017 funding levels. To put this number in perspective, foreign aid, historically, has only accounted for less than 1% of the U.S. budget. These budget cuts will have an immediate and detrimental impact on refugees in the U.S. and displaced and in-need populations overseas around the world. At a time when millions are displaced due to civil war, violence, ethnic cleansing, and natural disasters, this is the time for the U.S. to sustain, if not step up, its international commitments. Here are four ways that humanitarian aid is implicitly linked to the global refugee crisis:

1) Our humanitarian aid budget designates funds which directly impact refugees and displaced persons not in the U.S.

The Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) Program, administered by the Department of State, covers aid to refugees and internally displaced persons. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which provides protection, shelter, water, health care, and other resources to refugees and internally displaced persons, relies heavily on this account. The U.S., the world’s most powerful economy, is the UNHCR’s largest donor by far, giving almost $1.5 billion to the refugee agency; over three times that of Germany, the UNHCR’s second largest donor. U.S. funding supports programs and institutions which prevent refugees from being forcibly returned to places where their lives would be threatened, works to ensure access for humanitarian agencies to conflict zones, promotes international humanitarian and human rights law, and de-escalates conflicts which engender human displacement.

2) Humanitarian aid also includes significant funding for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Rrogram.

Since its inception under President Reagan in the early 1980s, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) has taken in more refugees than any other country’s resettlement program. At times of far less need, the U.S. has done much more to address human displacement. In 1980, there were about 9 million displaced people in the world. That year, the U.S. took in 207,116 refugees. This year, as more than 65 million people are displaced around the world, the U.S. has agreed to take in only 45,000 refugees.

The U.S. sets an example for other countries: when the U.S. resettles refugees, other countries follow suit. This pattern, however, goes both ways; when the U.S. closes its doors to displaced persons, other countries do as well. The USRAP has historically had a strong bipartisan tradition. Opening our doors to those fleeing persecution is grounded in our country’s very founding. From its earliest years, U.S shores have represented refuge and new beginnings for those seeking safety. Resettlement is often the only option for refugees when voluntary repatriation — return to their home country — and local integration to the country they initially fled are not possible. It is critical that the USRAP continues to receive funding to work in partnership with the UNHCR, bring refugees to the U.S., and to support refugee resettlement agencies in the U.S.

3) Aid goes to countries which are facing unanticipated humanitarian crises; crises which are typically refugee producing.

Under the Department of State, the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA) fund is a critically important account for the global refugee crisis. ERMA is a flexible reserve fund and allows the U.S. to support unforeseen humanitarian needs without taking money away from other humanitarian priorities. In past years, the ERMA fund was drawn on to offer aid to those affected by civil unrest in Libya, support those fleeing Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and provide assistance to Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon. If history teaches us anything, it is that we cannot predict every humanitarian crisis that arises. The least we can do is be prepared to meet these crises.

4) Aid goes to those countries which are disproportionately shouldering the burden of the refugee crisis.

The U.S. would have to resettle about 3,750 refugees each month to resettle the embarrassingly low number of 45,000 refugees the President determined the U.S. could resettle this fiscal year. Halfway through FY18, the U.S. is not on track to resettle even half that number this year. Meanwhile, countries like Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Kenya, and Ethiopia host large numbers of refugees, disproportionate to their populations and resources. More and more, refugees are living in towns and cities. According to the UNHCR, two-thirds of refugees now live outside of camps. Host governments are scrambling to find resources to expand housing availability, improve infrastructure, and offer educational and vocational opportunities to refugees. The MRA fund, in conjunction with USAID, addresses the development issues host countries face from protracted, refugee-producing conflicts. These funds recognize the new reality that refugees are likely to be displaced from their homes for generations and must build their lives in a new country. If host countries cannot adequately support their refugee populations, the escalation of economic, social, and political instability is inevitable. Thus, it is critical from both a moral and national security standpoint that the U.S. maintain its international commitments to support these countries.

Humanitarian aid has the power to mitigate the global refugee crisis by alleviating suffering, building new homes, and supporting host countries. Sign up here today to join Amnesty International USA this May in lobbying our members of Congress to honor our international commitments.

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