Leadership Needed To Help 100 Million Displaced Persons Who Seek A Home
A report by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) recently said that over 100 million people are currently displaced in the world. Over 40 percent of these forcibly displaced persons are children under the age of 18. The rate of growth of displaced persons in the world is alarming. In 2005, the UNHCR worked with 6.6 million internally displaced persons. That number grew to about 15 million by 2010 and more than 43.5 million by the end of 2019. Two years later, by 2021, the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide rose to 90 million, propelled by new waves of violence or protracted conflict in countries including Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the last 90 days alone, the Russian invasion of Ukraine displaced 8 million within and forced around 6 million to leave the country pushing the number of people forced to flee conflict, violence, human rights violations, and persecution over the staggering milestone of 100 million for the first time on record. The number includes over 25 million refugees and asylum seekers as well as the 53.2 million people displaced inside their borders by conflict.
Indisputable Proof Of Global Leadership Failure
In his position as Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland oversees the work of his humanitarian organization in over 30 countries affected by conflict and disaster. Recently Egeland said in a statement,“Today’s sobering 100 million displacement figure is indisputable proof that global leaders are failing the world’s most vulnerable people on a scale never before seen.” This trend presents a challenge to global stability and surely can no longer be ignored. In view of this problem, it may be worthwhile to consider how the world got to this point and what role the U.S. has played and is playing today.
U.S. Once Was Top Refugee Admission Country
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, “Until recently, the United States was the world’s top country for refugee admissions. From taking in hundreds of thousands of Europeans displaced by World War II to welcoming those escaping from communist regimes in Europe and Asia during the Cold War, the United States has helped define protections for refugees under international humanitarian law.”
The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement points out,“The U.S. Congress enacted the first refugee legislation in 1948 following the admission of more than 250,000 displaced Europeans. This legislation provided for the admission of an additional 400,000 displaced Europeans. Later laws provided for admission of persons fleeing Communist regimes, largely from Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia, Korea and China, and in the 1960s Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro arrived en masse. Most of these waves of refugees were assisted by private ethnic and religious organizations in the U.S., which formed the base for the public-private roles in U.S. resettlement efforts today.
With the fall of Vietnam in April of 1975, the U.S. faced the challenge of resettling hundreds of thousands of Indochinese using a Refugee Task Force and temporary funding. As a result, Congress realized the need for refugee resettlement services and passed The Refugee Act of 1980, standardizing resettlement services for all refugees admitted to the United States. This Act incorporates the definition of “refugee” used in the U.N. Protocol, providing for regular and emergency admission of refugees and authorizing federal assistance for the resettlement of refugees. The Refugee Act provides the legal basis for The Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Definition Of Refugee
As defined by U.S. law and the 1951 Refugee Convention, refugees are migrants seeking entry from a third country who are able to demonstrate that they have been persecuted or have reason to fear persecution, on the basis of one of five “protected grounds”: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. This is a narrow definition that leaves most displaced persons outside their purview in defining who should be protected. That is the essence of the problem.
Shifting Refugee Trend
Five years ago, most refugees were coming from the Middle East and Africa, and their host countries were located in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. The top countries hosting refugees were low-and middle-income countries: Turkey (2.8 million), Pakistan (1.6 million), Lebanon (1 million), Iran (978,000), Ethiopia (742,700), Jordan (691,800), Kenya (523,500), Uganda (512,600), and Chad (386,100). Germany was the only high-income country to make the list of top ten host countries with just under 500,000 refugees resettled. The major reason for this disparity, of course, was geography. Recently, particularly with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, this trend has somewhat shifted with European countries hosting increasing numbers of refugees from that war and from places like Syria.
During roughly the same time period, from a ceiling of 85,000 refugee admissions in 2016, admissions to the United States declined significantly until 2021. Then they increased and have been growing under President Biden, who recently announced the U.S. target for 2022 to be 125,000 refugees. This is a small drop of relief in a sea of need.
Three Categories Of Refugees
According to the American Immigration Council, “There are three principal categories through which individuals can seek access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program:
- Priority One. Individuals with compelling protection needs or those for whom no other durable solution exists. These individuals are referred to the United States by UNHCR, or they are identified by a U.S. embassy or a non-governmental organization (NGO).
- Priority Two. Groups of “special concern” to the United States, are selected by the Department of State with input from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, UNHCR, and designated NGOs. Currently, these groups include certain persons from the former Soviet Union, Burma, and Iraq.
Priority Three. The relatives (parents, spouses, or unmarried children under 21) of refugees who are already settled in the United States. The U.S.-based relative must file an Affidavit of Relationship and must be processed by the Department of Homeland Security.”
Pitting Groups Against Each Other Needlessly
It is through lobbying Congress that any particular group of refugees can be prioritized by being categorized into one of the foregoing groups. For example, there have been efforts made to identify Ukrainian refugees as a Priority Two group to expedite their immigration to America, and Afghan refugees have been similarly considered. There is nothing wrong with such groups seeking such recognition, but this approach needlessly pits such groups against each other in the process.
A New Paradigm Needed
The main challenge is that this method of dealing with modern-day displacements of whole populations through such things as wars, climate change or environmental disasters such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions needs to be changed. As Jan Egeland points out, we are failing the most vulnerable people in the world on a massive scale. This does not have to continue. Instead, we can adopt a new paradigm to deal with these issues and lead the world in addressing this mounting problem. It is true we cannot help everyone. But we can do much better than 125,000 refugees per year. What is more, other current temporary American programs, such as humanitarian parole and temporary protected status are stop-gap measures that are not much better and only postpone our day of reckoning with this problem.
America alone cannot solve this problem, but it can work with other counties as it did at the end of World War II, to address it. Adopting an approach similar to how it helped displaced persons at the end of World War II, we can help at least some of these 100 million individuals, without discrimination, by helping those who have ties to the U.S., or to other developed countries. We can use those ties, whether they be relatives, friends, professional colleagues or immigrant-friendly NGOs as a basis to enable displaced persons to immigrate and start new productive lives wherever sponsors can be found to help them.
All it takes is leadership.