U.S. Resettles Fewer Refugees, Even as Global Number of Displaced People Grows

Source: Pew Research Center

Break with past responses to global refugee surges

Mohammad Mobin smiles on Feb. 1 after greeting his sister's family, who had arrived as refugees from Afghanistan at an air base near Omaha, Nebraska. (Megan Farmer/Omaha World-Herald via AP)

Mohammad Mobin smiles on Feb. 1 after greeting his sister’s family, who had arrived as refugees from Afghanistan at an air base near Omaha, Nebraska. (Megan Farmer/Omaha World-Herald via AP)

The U.S. has resettled more refugees than any other country – about 3 million since 1980. Generally, in years when more people around the globe are displaced by conflict, violence or persecution in their countries, the number of refugees resettled by the U.S. has increased. But in the last few years, the number of refugees annually resettled by the U.S. has not consistently grown in step with a worldwide refugee population that has expanded nearly 50% since 2013, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and U.S. State Department data.

Across the globe in 2016, there were about 17.2 million people displaced from their homes due to conflict or persecution across international borders, according to UNHCR.1 That is a new global high point that rivals the early 1990s, following the fall of the Berlin Wall. On average, between 1982 and 2016, the U.S. resettled about 0.6% of the globe’s total refugee population each year.

Each year, UNHCR identifies a portion of all officially recognized refugees as candidates for resettlement in the U.S. or other countries. In recent years, about 1 million individuals per year have been identified for resettlement. Of this number, only a fraction of refugees are typically resettled. In 2016, for example, out of approximately 1 million eligible refugees identified by UNHCR, an estimated 189,000 were resettled worldwide, with more than half (51%) of these ending up in the United States. Between 1982 and 2016, the U.S. admitted more than two-thirds (69%) of the world’s resettled refugees, followed by Canada (14%) and Australia (11%).2

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