Biden Prioritizes Africa, Middle East, South Asia in Raising Refugee Ceiling

By Patrick Goodenough | May 4, 2021 | 4:14am EDT
Eritrean refugees line up for a distribution of items organized the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ethiopia on January 30, 2021. (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS/AFP via Getty Images)
Eritrean refugees line up for a distribution of items organized the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ethiopia on January 30, 2021. (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – President Biden’s new determination on refugee admissions, announced on Monday, indicates that when it comes to resettling refugees in the U.S., his administration is prioritizing those from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia over other parts of the world.

As the administration has been signaling for weeks, Biden lifted the refugee admission ceiling for the current fiscal year from the record-low 15,000 set by his predecessor, to 62,500.

Less than three weeks earlier, a previous presidential determination (PD) dismayed refugee resettlement advocates and some members of Congress because it did not lift President Trump’s 15,000 ceiling – the lowest set since the modern-day refugee admissions program was established in 1980.

The White House then scrambled to address the backlash, saying Biden would adjust the cap after all, and do so by mid-May.

Rather than wait that long, the president issued a new PD on Monday, saying he was doing so on the basis of having received “additional briefing and a more comprehensive presentation regarding the capacity of the executive departments and agencies charged with administering USRAP [the United States Refugee Admissions Program] to increase refugee admissions while responding to other demands.”

The USRAP traditionally uses five geographic regions for refugee allocations: Africa, East Asia, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Near East and South Asia.

In his April 16 PD, Biden earmarked 7,000 refugee admission slots for applicants from Africa (46.6 percent of the total 15,000), followed by 3,000 from Latin America and the Caribbean (20 percent of the total), 1,500 from Europe and Central Asia (10 percent of the total), 1,500 from the Near East and South Asia (10 percent of the total), and lastly 1,000 from East Asia (6.6 percent of the total).  There was also an unallocated reserve of 1,000 slots (6.6 percent of the total), to be used as needed.

In Biden’s May 3 PD, the allocation proportions have changed: Africa still accounts for the largest allocation (22,000, or 35.2 percent of the total 62,5000), but in second place is the Near East and South Asia (13,000 refugees, or 20.8 percent of the total), followed by an unallocated reserve (12,500 refugees, or 20 percent of the total).

A considerably smaller allocation is made for East Asia (6,000 refugees, or 9.6 percent of the total), Latin America and the Caribbean (5,000 refugees, or 8 percent of the total), and lastly Europe and Central Asia (4,000 refugees, or 6.4 percent of the total).

The most noticeable difference is that the Near East and South Asia has become a higher priority as a region of origin for refugee admissions, while Latin America and the Caribbean has become a lower priority.

(Graph: CNSNews.com/Data: State Department Refugee Processing Center)
(Graph: CNSNews.com/Data: State Department Refugee Processing Center)
 

Looking back at the USRAP over decades, the regions accounting for the largest numbers have changed over time, in line with world events and administration priorities. Overall, East Asia has accounted for the largest number – 1,489,700 refugees between 1975 and 2021, with the biggest influx coming in from Indochina after 1975 to the mid-1990s.

The next biggest influx (596,571 refugees between 1975 and 2003) was from the former Soviet Union, particularly in the first half of the 1990s following the disintegration of the USSR.

Other waves, mostly linked to armed conflicts, were recorded from Bosnia in the early 2000s; Somalia from the early 2000s until 2017; Burma at various times, including from 2007 onward; Iraq from 2008-2016; Bhutan from 2009-2013, Syria from 2016-2018; the Democratic Republic of Congo from 2015-2020; and Ukraine again from 2017-2020.

(Graph: CNSNews.com/Data: State Department Refugee Processing Center)
(Graph: CNSNews.com/Data: State Department Refugee Processing Center)

In the most recent update of USRAP figures, only 2,050 refugees have been admitted to the U.S. this fiscal year, up until March 31. The largest contingents have come from the DRC (555 refugees), Ukraine (524), Iraq (187), Burma (170), and Afghanistan (90).

In order to reach the 62,500 ceiling by the end of FY 2021, an average of more than 10,000 refugees would have to be resettled each month from April until the end of September.

“The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year,” Biden said in a statement on Monday. “We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years. It will take some time, but that work is already underway.”

Biden also reaffirmed his goal to admit 125,000 refugees in fiscal year 2022.

“That goal will still be hard to hit. We might not make it the first year,” he said. “But we are going to use every tool available to help these fully-vetted refugees fleeing horrific conditions in their home countries. This will reassert American leadership and American values when it comes to refugee admissions.”

An admission ceiling of 125,000 refugees would be the highest in almost three decades.

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