Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Overall decrease in number of refugee arrivals to the U.S.

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 23, 2012

An article in the Salt Lake Tribune refers to the overall reduction in refugees being resettled to the US. Although the government set a goal of resettling 80,000 refugees for fiscal year 2011, only 56,424 refugees resettled. The goal again was 80,000 refugees for fiscal year 2012 but as of the end of March, halfway through that fiscal year, the federal government has resettled only 21,836 refugees. The slowdown is apparently due to the backlog in the security clearances done for each refugee by the Department of Homeland Security .

…The number of refugees coming to America has sharply declined in the past two years, as security measures have increased for newcomers coming from some of the most turbulent parts of the world.

“As credible threat information emerged, we had to enhance our screening process for the refugee program in order to make sure we were keeping our country safe,” said Deborah Sisbarro, public affairs adviser for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, which is part of the U.S. State Department.

The decrease in arrivals — nearly 17,000 fewer refugees in 2011 than in 2010 — follows the high-profile arrest of two Iraqi refugees in 2011 on terrorism charges after they were resettled in Kentucky…

In 2011, 56,424 refugees arrived in the U.S., compared with 73,311 the year before.

Halfway into this federal fiscal year, the U.S. has welcomed 21,836 refugees, though federal officials continue to assure resettlement workers that numbers will climb.

Utah welcomed 836 refugees in 2011 versus 1,100 in 2010…

The decline has forced the IRC, one of a handful of resettlement agencies in Utah, to shrink its staff. Each refugee comes with about $700 from the federal government… Read more here

My first suspicion is that this large reduction of incoming refugees mainly includes Iraqi refugees, due to the security clearance backlog. Looking at the numbers at the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center website, however, it turns out that reductions are from each area of the world, although with refugees from Africa and the Near East losing the largest share. Only 26,000 refugees from the Near East/South Asia arrived in FY2011, compared to the 35,000 that the US federal government approved for resettlement. In addition, only 6000 refugees from Africa were let in compared to the 15,000 approved (whether this reduction is from across Africa or concentrated in one area, e.g. Somalia, I don’t know). Nevertheless, the security clearances backlog is affecting refugee rivals from all regions, including the 3000 unallocated lots — none of which were used in FY2011. (Also, a complicating factor related to the security clearances is that many Iraqis and Somalis have similar names, which can present a problem if US authorities consider someone else by the same name as a security threat).

Note: Regarding the $700 figure given for the federal government’s contribution per refugee – local refugee resettlement agencies get $700 per capita from the State Department for their overhead costs. As to what the State Department actually gives, that would be $1800 per capita just for initial refugee resettlement needs (refugees’ first 90 days). The federal government supplies other contributions via the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

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