US Remains Top Country for Refugee Resettlement – 2017: 24,559; 2018: 17,113

Editor’s Note:

Is that not a rather misleading headline, considering the small numbers?

By Nayla Rush | March 14, 2019 | 2:42 PM EDT

(Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

New data released by the UN refugee agency on its 2018 resettlement activities shows that the United States remained the top country for refugee resettlement. What’s more, the vast majority of refugees whom the UN referred to third countries for resettlement are neither the most vulnerable nor in urgent need of relocation.

This report was released last month by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and gives a statistical snapshot of the agency’s resettlement activities from January to December 2018. It shows that, of the 1,195,349 refugees that UNHCR considered to be in need of resettlement globally in 2018, only 55,692 (4.7 percent) were resettled. This was the basis for a recent UNHCR claim that “less than 5 per cent of global refugee resettlement needs” were met last year.

But that percentage is misleading. What we should be looking at is how many refugees were actually resettled out of those submitted for resettlement. This may sound redundant, but for refugees to be considered for resettlement, they first need to be referred (or “submitted”) by UNHCR to potential resettlement countries. In fact, UNHCR submission capacities are limited. As State Department official Kelly Gauger underlined some time ago, “the notion that we [the United States] could get to 100,000 refugees when UNHCR doesn’t have nearly the capacity to send us referrals for 100,000 refugees just isn’t possible.” Admissions, therefore, have more to do with the number of submissions than they do with actual needs. Let us then calculate the following: Out of those refugees submitted for resettlement by UNHCR, how many were actually resettled in the last five years? (See Table 1.)

So, despite UNHCR claims that many more refugees were in need of resettlement, the vast majority of those whom UNHCR actually submitted for resettlement were resettled.

The recent fact sheet also provides us with a wealth of other information about refugees submitted by UNHCR for resettlement in calendar year 2018, including top countries of origin of the refugees, the top countries of asylum (usually neighboring countries to which the refugees initially fled), and the top destinations, as well as submission priority levels and categories.

Despite refugee advocates’ constant criticism of the Trump administration’s refugee policy, the United States accepted more refugees for resettlement in 2018 than any of the other 29 nations who did so. The United States was, in fact, the top resettlement submission and destination country in 2018 and 2017 (see Table 3 for the 2017 data). Worthy of note as well, the United States remains a strong supporter of the UNHCR; in fiscal year 2018 alone, the U.S. contribution to the UNHCR “reached a historic high of nearly $1.6 billion to support UNHCR’s response to historic levels of displacement and humanitarian need.”

UNHCR’s 2017 resettlement data shows the following:

2018 Resettlement Submissions by Priority

UNHCR resettlement submissions are divided by three priority levels: emergency, urgent, and normal. Each priority level is explained in UNHCR’s Resettlement Handbook:

Emergency. “[C]ases in which the immediacy of security and/or medical condition necessitates removal … within a few days, if not within hours.”

Urgent. “Refugees who face conditions requiring their expeditious resettlement … within six weeks of submission.”

Normal. “The majority of cases fall within this category. This level applies to all cases where there are no immediate medical, social, or security concerns which would merit expedited processing. UNHCR expects decisions and departure within 12 months of submission.” (Emphasis added.)

Almost all refugees (83 percent) submitted for resettlement in 2018 were in “normal circumstances” where, therefore, “there are no immediate medical, social, or security concerns which would merit expedited processing.” Only 17 percent were urgent or emergency submissions. For comparison, in 2017 (see the “UNHCR Projected 2019 Global Resettlement Needs” report), 7.5 percent of all submissions were urgent or emergency ones and 92.5 percent were “normal.”

Resettlement, therefore, is usually not “a life-saving solution for the most vulnerable refugees in the world” as UNHCR likes to claim.

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