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Biden on track to accept lowest number of refugees in modern US history

Around 2,050 refugees have been admitted to the US halfway through 2021 fiscal year, representing 'new historical low'
Syrian children play in the Zaatari refugee camp, 50 miles north of Amman on 15 February. The US has taken in 42 Syrian refugees this fiscal year (AFP/File photo)

The United States is on track to accept the smallest number of refugees ever recorded, according to a new report by the International Rescue Committee (IRC). 

The IRC report shows that midway through the 2021 fiscal year, only 2,050 refugees have been admitted to the US.

The "new historical low" comes despite promises by the Biden administration to immediately increase the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the US.

'Highly restrictive and discriminatory Trump era policies remain firmly in place'

- International Rescue Committee

While the Biden administration has worked to rebuild the US's Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) - among other initiatives - via executive order, revoking some restrictive immigration policies and conducting the required consultations with Congress, the IRC report shows that such efforts have stalled. 

"There has now been an unexplained and unjustified eight-week delay in issuing the revised refugee admissions policy," the group said. "This delay means that highly restrictive and discriminatory Trump-era policies remain firmly in place." 

Despite pledges to raise the cap on the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the United States, which were drastically lowered under former President Donald Trump, President Joe Biden has yet to sign a presidential determination making it so. 

Since the document remains unsigned, the Trump administration's 15,000 cap on refugee admissions per year remains in effect. But at this rate, the Biden administration is set to reach less than half of that number. 

"As a result, tens of thousands of already-cleared refugees remain barred from resettlement and over 700 resettlement flights have been cancelled, leaving vulnerable refugees in uncertain limbo," the IRC warned. 

The US State Department did not respond to Middle East Eye's request for comment by the time of this article's publication. 

A 'de facto ban' on Muslim refugees

The IRC urged President Biden to "act quickly" and sign the Presidential Determination that he had proposed, which would overturn "discriminatory policies" and increase the refugee admissions cap for this year to 62,500.  

In February, Biden announced he was raising the annual cap on refugee admissions to 125,000 for the fiscal year that starts on 1 October. 

But if Biden does not sign the presidential determination for this fiscal year, the IRC estimates the US will admit 4,510 refugees, which represents less than half the number from the last year of the Trump administration.

The group also warned that the Trump administration's near-total ban of refugees from Somalia, Syria and Yemen also remains in effect, as admissions from countries subject to "extreme vetting" remain at a near halt. 

Biden overturned Trump's travel ban of mostly Muslim-majority and African countries, referred to as a "Muslim Ban" by rights groups on 20 January, his first day in office, calling it "a stain on our national conscience" in his proclamation.

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But while Syrian refugees represent the population with the highest resettlement needs for the fifth year in a row – estimated at over 592,000 individuals in 2021 and accounting for over 40 percent of all needs globally - the Biden administration has failed to step up to the need. 

"Just 42 Syrian refugees have been resettled to the US this fiscal year," the IRC reported, noting that 1,285 Syrian refugees were resettled in the first half of the 2016 fiscal year. 

Meanwhile, the US has accepted no refugees from Yemen during the same period despite Yemen remaining at the top of the IRC’s emergency watchlist for three years. 

"The current admissions policies have amounted to a de facto ban on many Muslim refugees. These policies, in the sordid tradition of the Muslim and Africa Ban, have undeniably discriminatory impacts along lines of nationality and religion," the group said. 

Last month, rights group expressed outrage over a decision by the Biden administration to make individuals who were denied a visa under former President Trump's "Muslim ban" to reapply and pay additional application fees.

While allowing those who received a final refusal on their visa application on or after 20 January 2020 to seek re-adjudication without any extra steps, the State Department said anyone denied before that date would have to reapply and pay a new application fee.

It also said applicants selected in the diversity visa lottery prior to the current fiscal year were barred by US law from being issued visas if they had not received them already.