Problems Refugees Face: 2021 Updates
Earlier this year, we discussed what refugee resettlement programs can expect in 2021. Many of these expectations have changed—despite big promises from the current administration, only 2,050 refugees have been admitted to the US during the 2020-21 fiscal year (Sep—Aug). What are the problems facing refugees amidst these changes?
What Does it Mean to Be a Refugee
There are few thoughts as daunting as leaving behind your home country.
Yet every year, millions of people around the world are forced to do exactly that. These people are not leaving their homes out of choice, but rather due to war, persecution, or natural disaster. They are known as refugees.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a refugee is “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so.”
When individuals and communities become refugees, they must rely on the international support of outside countries. Many are relocated to nations across the globe, where refugee resettlement programs help these individuals get situated in an often very unfamiliar place. Doing so can be difficult, and the problems refugees face only continue from there.
Facts About Refugees in America
From 2016 to 2020, the number of refugees admitted into the US dropped by 86%, with only 11,814 individuals entering in 2020. This is in stark contrast to 2015, when over 110,000 refugees came into the US.
Today, there are over 26 million refugees in the world. Of these, only those deemed most at risk—about 1% of the total—are even considered for resettlement in the US. The entry process takes upwards of 3 years due to extensive screening by federal agencies.
Once in the United States, refugee resettlement programs help incorporate refugees into their new, unfamiliar communities. Successful resettlement does not happen overnight—it requires patience and consistency to address the problems refugees face. Even still, refugees are quick to begin stimulating the economy. They work in essential industries like health care and food service, adding a vibrancy and strength to their new communities.
United States Refugee Resettlement
As January 2021 experienced a presidential administration change, experts looked to refugee policy as the first to change. It is not hard to see why—the Biden administration promised to raise the refugee limit from 15,000 to 125,000 a year. This cap would be more in line with historical trends. Alongside this change, many expected resettlement programs to experience budget changes, slow but steady growth, and program innovation.
However, as the midway mark for the fiscal year passes, only 2,050 refugees have entered the US so far. This number is drastically lower than even conservative predictions and have many wondering about the fate of refugee resettlement in the US. Should this trend continue, 2021 could see the fewest refugees accepted into the United States since the inception of the UN Refugee Program.
While the president consults with Congress to set a refugee limit, the administration alone issues a final decision. This is done through an executive action known as a presidential determination (or PD).
Although the slow movement by the new administration indicates a renege of its original promises, recent announcements suggest that the cap may yet still be raised for 2021. Resettlement programs are hopeful of this possibility.
Interestingly, US public opinion on refugee resettlement is actually quite positive. In 2016, 61% of. Americans supported welcoming refugees. By 2019, this support grew to 73%. The majority of US citizens are in favor of allowing refugees to enter the United States.
Problems Faced By Refugees
For refugees hopeful of entering the US, one of the biggest problems they face is simply getting in. Being one of 2,050 accepted in 2021 is no easy task and is often a matter of statistical chance.
Refugees themselves do not even choose where they apply or are sent. International agencies like UNHCR recommend individuals for resettlement to each country, and then the screening process begins.
Notably, many countries look to the US as their example for resettlement. When the US restricts entry, many other nations follow suit.
Once accepted into the US, the problems refugees face do not end. While refugee resettlement programs exist to help acclimation, funding is directly correlated with the refugee limit. Since 2016, almost all resettlement programs have had to close offices and lay off staff. Many are functioning at only a fraction of what they are capable of.
Additionally, stigma around refugees still runs deep. Misconceptions about refugees in the US make adaptation to American life very difficult. Research shows that the better a community embraces and supports their refugees, the better experience and quality of life these individuals will have. Even still, cultural and language barriers make this no easy task.
Towards the Future of Refugee Resettlement
While 2021 is not unfolding as initially expected, resettlement programs are still hopeful that changes are on the way. In preparation, organizations should consider investing grassroots and community innovation.
One such way is through effective case management. ClientTrack™ is an industry leader in helping refugee resettlement programs centralize their data into one simple, easy-to-navigate place. The Kentucky Office of Refugees has been able to use ClientTrack to manage over 3,500 refugees each year, receive immediate resource reports, and create new workflows—all while coordinating with food and nutrition services, housing organizations, and education programs.
While the problems refugees face are likely to stay, we are hopeful that organizations will continue to better serve people fleeing violence, persecution, and fear.
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