The President’s “S***hole Refugee Policy drops on Africa
By Adotei Akwei, Deputy Director, Advocacy and Government Relations
Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo proudly swaggered to a State Department podium to announce that the United States was going to allow 30,000 refugees to resettle in the United States. What his announcement failed to mention was this was, by far, the lowest goal the US has ever set. For the second year in a row the Trump Administration is drastically cutting our commitment to refugee protection and in the process further eroding US leadership on humanitarian issues globally.
Comparing the number to fiscal year 2017 (Oct. 1, 2016-Sept. 30, 2017) is even more shocking. In FY17 the US had anticipated resettling 35,000 refugees from Africa alone — more than the total combined goal for every region that the US has set for all FY19. When the Trump administration’s numbers are compared to those of his predecessors, the trend is even more alarming: In 2009 the Bush administration set its resettlement goal at 80,000. The Obama administration left office having set the goal of admitting 110,000. Even worse, this does not even address the actual number refugees who were resettled under the Trump administration. as opposed to the numbers they committed themselves to resettling. Here, too, the Trump administration’s record is highlighted by one stark example: in the first 10 months of fiscal year 2018 the US resettled just 56 Syrian refugees out of a population of five million Syrian refugees.
How far we have fallen in such a short time. How much further will we fall?
While such a drastic cut has impacts on every population of refugees in need — one of the starkest impacts can be seen in the regional limits the Administration has set. While they slightly “raised” the limit of refugees from Latin America and Europe and Central Asia — all other regions saw significant cuts. One of the worst cuts was for Africa, which will see 8,000 fewer refugees offered resettlement to the US then last fiscal year. The administration’s proposal comes as crises in Africa have generated 6.3 million refugees, with the largest numbers coming from South Sudan, the DRC, the Central African Republic and Burundi. When placed in the context of racist and derogatory remarks about Africa attributed to President Trump earlier this year, it is clear that the new refugee resettlement caps are damaging and racist and Congress needs to oppose them.
Secretary of State Pompeo argued that the 30,000 cap must not been seen in isolation and that other programs and initiatives by the United States focused on refugees should show that we continue to be the most generous country on earth. That is a statement with serious chutzpah coming from an administration that proposed drastic cuts to US contributions for global programs focused on refugees and providing humanitarian assistance in both 2018 and 2019. Cuts that would directly impact the ability of countries hosting refugee camps to continue taking care of those people. Cuts that were roundly rejected by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle as being far too severe and potentially damaging to national security.
While the UN estimates that there are around 25 million refugees in need, most of these millions will never be resettled. Most will, one day, hopefully be able to voluntarily return to their home country. Others will integrate in the country to which? they’ve fled. But for some, neither option is possible. For those — and the UN estimates there are about 1.4 million of them — resettlement is needed urgently.
No one is arguing that the United States should resettle 1.4 million people, but Congress must remind an administration that appears bereft of any commitment to human rights and humanitarian compassion that these new proposed policies are as much a self-inflicted wound to global US leadership and national security as they are an affront to the values the country aspires to meet.
There are millions of reasons why the new refugee caps should be rejected. We will end with just one of them. Awad is Sudanese human rights defender who fled Sudan for Egypt, where she is registered as a refugee with the UN refugee agency, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”). Awad founded the Sudanese Women Human Rights Project, which is focused on defending and promoting human rights in Sudan. Awad was detained in Sudan due to her human rights work, and fled to Egypt in February 2012, where she has continued her work to protect other Sudanese women’s human rights defenders. She registered as a refugee with UNHCR in Cairo in 2013 and her application for resettlement to the U.S. began that same year. However, despite continuing to face significant risk and threats, her case remains in processing. She remains at risk even in Egypt, where Sudanese authorities have continued to threaten her. And now Egyptian authorities have threatened to deport her to Sudan because of her ongoing human rights advocacy. There, she could face persecution, including threats against her life, a serious violation of her human rights. Awad is one of many people facing danger or persecution whose only chance at long-term safety is resettlement to a safe third country such as the U.S. Yet the Trump administration’s policies targeting refugees, particularly Muslim refugees, jeopardize the safety and security of refugees such as Awad. The only reason that Awad, and refugees like her, are stuck in limbo now is because of policies based on fear and demonization.
This is just one example of why the Trump Administration’s arguments ring so hollow. They fail to take into account the complexity of this crisis. There are refugees, like Awad, who urgently need to be resettled to another country, and the United States last week showed the world this is no longer something it views as a priority. A position that flies in the face of US history, capacity, and worldwide need. And dismissing the countless Americans across the country saying we can do better and we must do more. In August, 270 state and local elected leaders from over 42 states and the District of Colombia wrote the President to say as much. Their voice was clearly ignored.
Now it is up to Congress to make this administration listen and do better, because the policy is short-sighted, morally bankrupt and racist, and because world needs us to do better.
Contributions from Ryan Mace and Denise Bell