Commentary: America is slamming the door on refugees–and the nation’s core values

Kurdish refugees from Kobane, Syria in refugee camp on the border at Suruc, Turkey.


By Barbara Franz

Globally, there are 25 million refugees in need of durable solutions today. In total numbers, the United States has been by far the most generous resettlement country in the world, accepting more than 3 million refugees since 1975.

In 2016, the U.S. resettled 84,955 refugees, and in 2017, took in 53,715.

Barbara Franz
Barbara Franz

Historically, from Vietnamese boat people to Jewish people leaving the Soviet Union, from Cubans to Bosnians, from the lost boys of Sudan to Christians from Myanmar, substantial groups of our citizens initially arrived as refugees.

But this is no longer the case. The U.S. has given up its leadership in humanitarian concerns and its efforts to aid people in need.

For 2018, the president has reduced the cap of refugee admissions to 45,000. According to the Refugee Processing Center, the US government actually had resettled 12,934 persons as of Aug. 1, 2018, and, according to best possible estimates, will resettle a total of 20,000 by year’s end.

Last week, the administration announced that the refugee resettlement ceiling will be dropped to 30,000 for the next fiscal year.

Hence, the United States is on track to admit the fewest number of refugees since the introduction of the resettlement program in 1980.

This reduction is happening at the same moment in which we are witnessing the highest levels of displacement in more than 50 years! An unprecedented 68.5 million people around the world have been forced from their homes.

The principle international agency responsible for protecting these refugees, the UNHCR (office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), estimates that 40 million persons have been internally displaced.

Some 3.1 million are currently seeking asylum, and a total estimated 25.4 million persons are considered refugees, who were forced to leave their home countries—19.9 million of whom are under the UNHCR mandate (the remaining approximately 5.4 million are Palestinians, not under UNHCR mandate).

More than half of the refugees under UNHCR mandate come from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan.

About 84 percent of refugees under UNHCR mandate reside in developing countries, which have much less wealth and economic growth than the USA. About half of them (more than 11 million) are hosted by just nine countries: Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

All nine of these countries are located in the global south, in Africa and the Middle East. Combined, their economies account for about 2.5 percent of the global economy.

To estimate the strain on the economic resources of these countries, the UN looked at the number of refugees relative to a country’s GDP based on purchasing power parity (GDP PPP).

Per $1 of GDP PPP, the DRC hosts 471 refugees, Ethiopia 453, Pakistan 317, and Uganda 239. Too poor on their own, it is impossible for these countries to provide for the basic needs of refugees without putting the welfare of their own populations at risk.

The per capita GDP PPP in the United States was last recorded at $54,225.45 in 2017, which is 305 percent of the world’s average. Thus, the U.S. resettled 0.99 refugee per $1 GDP PPP in 2017, and we will host 0.36 refugees per $1 of GDP PPP in 2018 if GDP numbers remain the same and the administration actually resettles the promised 20,000 refugees.

Severely economically handicapped countries such as Ethiopia, DRC, and Pakistan, are taking in hundreds of times more refugees per dollar of GDP PPP than we are.

The U.S. government is abandoning its humanitarian and political leadership in today’s world. The administration’s cuts in the resettlement program have led to a closing of resettlement agencies across the country.

We are abdicating our moral leadership,walking away from our past good practice of taking responsibility for the most vulnerable groups of refugees, such as the lost boys of Sudan. And nobody seems to care!

Trump and his zealots believe a global approach to dealing with the refugee crisis is against American interests and sovereignty. This is shortsighted and ignores our historic responsibilities.

For example, without the 2003 Iraq war, initiated by the George W. Bush administration, there would have been no civil war in Iraq. Once we were in Iraq, poor policy decisions exacerbated the situation on the ground.

Without the absolutely insidious American policy of dismantling the Iraqi army, terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda in Iraq and ISIS would not have mushroomed in the region.

Here at home, we have forgotten the historic disasters we’ve brought about. However, the millions in the region live with the consequences every day. Much of America now is engrained with short-sighted, exclusivist nationalism; the administration is highly suspicious of refugees and questions whether the U.S. actually should be compelled to accept them at all.

It is clear that the GOP administration has withdrawn the U.S. from the global refugee protection regime. Have Americans lost our belief in the obligation to welcome the world’s most vulnerable?

We are one of the wealthiest countries on the planet. Nevertheless, countries such as Germany, have surpassed us not only in the automobile industry, but also in terms of their humanitarian agency and leadership.

In the past three years, Angela Merkel’s Germany has taken in 1.2 million refugees while the U.S. accepted 128,400.

I, for one, do not believe that Americans will follow the current GOP administration into the abyss of authoritarianism, global diplomatic isolationism and global ignorance by disregarding our basic values.

For generations, we have helped those in need, with the objective of providing everybody—refugee, migrant and citizen, abroad and at home—with the chance to live in dignity and realize her fullest potential.

Barbara Franz, Ph.D., is a political science professor at Rider University, and a Morristown resident.


Editor’s note: The opinions expressed above are the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.

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