99,726 Somali Refugees Settled in U.S. Since 9/11

Patrick Goodenough | November 29, 2016 | 4:22am EST
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More than 280,000 refugees, most of them Somalis, live in the massive Dadaab camp in eastern Kenya. (Photo: UNHCR/B. Bannon)

(Updated to include figures for November)


(CNSNews.com) – Nearly 100,000 Somali refugees have been admitted into the United States since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, including 9,020 during fiscal year 2016 and 2,279 in the last two months alone.

According to the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center database, between the al-Qaeda terror attacks in September 2001 and today, 99,726 Somali refugees have been resettled in the U.S.

Of those refugees, 99.6 percent are Muslims, reflecting the religious makeup of Somalia’s population, which is almost entirely Muslim, predominantly Sunni.

The largest numbers of Somali refugees arriving in the country since 9/11 have been settled in Minnesota (almost 16,000) and Ohio (more than 7,500), with sizeable communities also in Texas, New York and Arizona.

Monday’s attack on the Ohio State University campus in Columbus, Ohio, was carried out by a student who, according to law enforcement officials, was a Somali refugee who came to the U.S. in 2014, after living for several years in Pakistan.

Abdul Razak Ali Artan drove his car into pedestrians before getting out and stabbing people with a butcher knife, injuring eleven people in total. A police officer shot and killed him.

The terror attack comes two months after a 20-year-old college student – the U.S.-raised son of refugees from Somalia – stabbed 10 people at a Minnesota shopping mall before an off-duty police officer shot and killed him.

In a campaign stop in Minnesota shortly before the November 8 election, Republican nominee Donald Trump pointed to the mall attack and accused the administration of “faulty refugee vetting.”

During October alone, 1,352 Somali refugees were admitted to the U.S., where they were resettled in 38 states and the District of Columbia. The biggest groups were located in New York State (138), Minnesota (135) and Ohio (93).

Those 1,352 Somali refugees constituted 13.5 percent of the total number of refugees from around the world (9,945) admitted to the U.S. in October. They were also second largest group from any country admitted that month, behind a 2,081-strong contingent from the Democratic Republican of the Congo.

Since the beginning of November, another 927 Somali refugees have arrived, settling in 33 states, with the largest groups in Minnesota (137), New York (103) and Missouri (75).

The 9,020 Somali refugees admitted during FY 2016, which ended on September 30, comprised the largest annual admission of Somalis under the refugee program in a decade. Not since 2006 (10,357) has a larger group arrived.


For more than 20 years Somalia was not under the control of a single national government. The eventual establishment of a central federal government in 2012 has brought neither stability nor an end to the terrorist offensive waged by al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate.

Al-Shabaab’s deadly campaign at home has had a spillover in the Somali-American community. Over nearly a decade the FBI has recorded cases of several dozen young Somali-American men from Minneapolis-Saint Paul having traveled to Somalia to join the terrorist group.

Last year nine young Somali-Americans were arrested on suspicion of plotting to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL). Six of them pleaded guilty and the other three were later convicted of plotting to join ISIS and commit murder abroad.

Over recent months ISIS has called on supporters around the world to carry out “lone wolf” attacks in their home countries.

Terrorist ‘breeding ground’

The State Department maintains that the vetting process for refugees is the most robust of any for people applying to travel to the U.S., involving security agency screening as well as biometrics, and taking 18-24 months to clear an applicant to enter the U.S.

As is the case for refugees from other parts of the world, a Somali wishing to apply for refugee status and resettlement in the U.S. must be referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program – usually by the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR.

Most Somali refugee applicants are based in neighboring Kenya, where the UNHCR’s Dadaab camp in the east of the country is described as the world’s largest. The agency recently confirmed a camp population of 283,558 refugees, the vast majority of them Somalis. (Somalis also apply for resettlement in the U.S. from Ethiopia and parts of southern Africa.)

Dadaab has become notorious for its insecurity, and Kenyan officials say al-Shabaab terrorists are known to operate there. Some international humanitarian agencies have withdrawn their staff, and the Kenyan government has said a number of times that it wants to close the camp, describing it as a “breeding ground” for terrorism.

Some Somalis have been repatriated, but Kenyan authorities have come under pressure from the U.N. and the Obama administration not to close the camp, including pressure from Secretary of State John Kerry during a visit to Kenya last year.

In its report to Congress on proposed refugee admissions for FY 2017, the Obama administration says that almost 5,500 Somali refugees will leave Kenya for the U.S. this year, most of them residents of Dadaab and another camp in Kenya’s far north-west, Kakuma.

The report also says that security in Dadaab is so bad, officials from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) – a component of the Department of Homeland Security – are unable to interview refugee applicants there. Instead they are taken to Kakuma for that purpose.

“PRM [the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration] continues to fund movements of refugee applicants from Dadaab to Kakuma for the purposes of DHS/USCIS interview and adjudication, since DHS/USCIS staff cannot work at Dadaab due to the security conditions,” the report states.

“Applicants return to Dadaab for medical exams and other post-DHS/USCIS steps until their departure for the United States.”

The administration’s report to Congress does not include a proposed number of Somali refugee admissions for FY 2017. But it does say that Somalia and the DRC continue to account for the “vast majority” of refugee admissions from African countries.

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