The United Nations estimates that nearly 1.2 million refugees around the world will need to be resettled in 2017, although it will be able to refer only about 14 percent of those cases to accepting countries.
If past experience is a guide, the United States will be the world’s top target of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The UNHCR made 62 percent of its referrals in 2015 to the United States. The next-closet country was Canada, which had 17 percent of all submissions. The acceptance rate for all countries in 2015 exceeded 90 percent.
“There’s nothing to be shy about … I think the U.S. is doing more than its fair share.”
The United States has contributed $5.6 billion in humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees since 2011, making it the largest donor to the UNHCR.
Those statistics fly in the face of suggestions by President Obama that the United States needed to greatly expand the number of Syrians entering the country because America was not doing its fair share to alleviate the humanitarian crisis resulting from the Syrian civil war. The president has committed to accepting 110,000 refugees in the current fiscal year, which runs through the end of September.
“There’s nothing to be shy about … I think the U.S. is doing more than its fair share,” said Nayla Rush, a senior researcher at the Center for Immigration Studies, which released a report on the refugee program Thursday.
Rush’s report accuses the UNHCR of taking the wrong approach to the refugee crisis.
“Instead of pushing for more resettlement or other admission pathways, UNHCR (and the United States) should put more emphasis on helping refugees where they are and, ultimately, helping them return,” the report states. “Humanitarian assistance or calls for local integration are not enough, especially for hosting countries.”
Even the U.N.’s 2017 target of resettling 170,000 refugees is a drop in the bucket compared to the 1.19 million refugees it deems in need of relocation, Rush said.
[lz_table title=”Top Countries for Refugee Referrals, 2015″ source=”UNHCR Projected Global Resettlement Needs 2017″]Country,Refugees
United States,82 491
United Kingdom,3 622
New Zealand,1 980
“It’s more symbolic than anything,” she said. “It’s alleviating the conscience of the West.”
A better approach, Rush argued, is spending money to help neighboring countries deal with the influx of refugees and investing in development programs to help refugees become economically self-sufficient. That would make it easier for refugees to return home once the crisis that prompted their exit recedes, and better-positioned to rebuild their native countries.
Resettling refugees halfway around the world should be a last resort, reserved for people who have medical needs that cannot be addressed locally or face persecution in the countries where they have fled, Rush said.
The report notes that, contrary to statements by U.S. and U.N. officials, few of the resettled refugees meet the U.N.’s criteria for the most vulnerable people. Rush cites the UNHCR’s own report breaking down submissions in 2015. Of the 134,044 cases referred by the agency that year, only 11.4 percent were labeled “urgent” or “emergency.” The vast majority were classified as “normal.”
Under the U.N.’s definition, those are cases “where there are no immediate medical, social, or security concerns which would merit expedited processing.”
[lz_table title=”Refugee Resettlement by Priority, 2015″ source=”UNHCR Projected Global Resettlement Needs 2017″]Category,Refugees
Rush said that, “As its applied today, its defeating its own purpose.”
Rush said relocating large numbers of refugees to Western countries can create a culture clash, increase costs for the host countries and cause hardship for the new arrivals. She said the notion that refugees easily can be integrated into Western societies and “live happily ever after is an illusion.”
A report by the Center for Immigration Studies in 2015 determined that Middle Eastern refugees, who often lack English skills and education, tend to struggle economically. The think tank estimated in 2015 that each refugee costs the federal government an average of $64,370 over the first five years, mainly due to heavy welfare usage.
Rush said resettlement organizations that ease the transition of refugees who come to America usually offer help only for the first few months.
“What happens after?” she asked. “After a few months, they leave you alone. It is tough.”
President-Elect Donald Trump repeatedly has criticized Obama’s refugee policy and has vowed to temporarily shut down resettlement from high-risk countries pending an in-depth review. Rush said the U.N. almost certainly will have to adjust its 2017 goals.
“The U.S. cannot change U.N. policy, but obviously, it can change how many we bring in,” she said.