“We had to flee Somalia or else we would have lost our lives” recalls Mustafa, a former Somali refugee who spent eight years in Kenya until his family was resettled to the U.S. in 2014. Mustafa now runs his own non-profit in Lancaster, Pennsylvania to help connect newly resettled refugees with the local community.
Each year hundreds of thousands of people like Mustafa are forced to flee their countries in search of safety. Many refugees will spend years uprooted, unable to return home because they fear for their safety. In 2019, more than 1.44 million refugees were in urgent need of resettlement worldwide and only a fraction of them - approximately 4.5 percent - were resettled.
The coronavirus pandemic has amplified the scarcity of resettlement places available for refugees. The UN Refugee Agency reports that it is unlikely that the 2020 resettlement targets will be met.
But what is resettlement and how does it work in the United States?
1. What is resettlement?
Resettlement is the selection and transfer of refugees from a country in which they have sought protection to a third country which has granted them permission to stay on the basis of long-term or permanent residence status. It is a solution that ensures refugees are protected against refoulment (forced return), provides them access to rights similar to those enjoyed by citizens and gives them an opportunity to eventually become citizens of the resettlement country.
The UN Refugee Agency works closely with its partners to identify the most vulnerable refugees with urgent protection risks but the final decision whether or not a refugee will be resettled in a country is the discretion of the country of resettlement.
2. How does the resettlement process work in the U.S.?
The United States conducts a rigorous vetting process to determine whether to accept a refugee for resettlement. The entire process takes approximately two years and involves the following steps:
3. How many refugees are admitted to the U.S. each year?
The United States has a long tradition of welcoming refugees, but its resettlement program has dwindled to historic low levels in recent years. In September 2020, the U.S. announced that the maximum number of refugees admitted to the country in 2021 would be reduced to 15,000. That’s 80,000 fewer than the historic average of 95,000 and the lowest since the creation of the refugee admissions program in 1980.
At a time of record forced displacement, the reduction of refugee admissions means that thousands of vulnerable children, mothers and fathers will be left in perilous situations, without the opportunity to rebuild their lives in safety.
4. How many refugees have been resettled to the U.S. this year and where do they come from?
As of September 2020, 11,814 refugees have been resettled to the United States. The 2020 fiscal year cap for resettled refugees was 18,000 - a 40 percent reduction from 2019’s 30,000. This is a record low in the history of the U.S. resettlement program, which has a historic average of 95,000.
In 2020, the U.S. welcomed refugees from more than 60 countries, with the vast majority arriving from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Iraq.
5. What are the top states in the U.S. for refugee resettlement?
Refugees have resettled in every state, with California, Washington, Texas and New York resettling the most refugees in 2020.
What can you do to help resettled refugees in the U.S.?
USA for UNHCR supports the full journey of refugees resettling in the U.S. Not only do our donors help refugees in their greatest time of need, but their support builds awareness and empathy for resettled refugees living in the U.S. With your help, more refugees like Mustafa will have the opportunity to build a peaceful life and give their family a bright future.