A refugee is a person who has left his or her country because of war or a fear of persecution due to race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or membership of a particular social group.
The number of refugees worldwide has reached a historic high of 65 million people, who are from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Somalia.
Five million Syrians are refugees as the result of a war beginning in 2011, when peaceful protests were met with violent reactions and the country descended into chaos. In addition, more than 6 million Syrians have been displaced within their country.
Most Syrian refugees have fled to nearby Middle Eastern countries, primarily Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. The vast majority live in urban and rural areas, with about 10% living in camps.
Slightly more than 10% of the Syrian refugees have fled to Europe. Germany, for example, has accepted 41,000 Syrian refugees since 2013. In addition, Canada received 40,000 Syrian refugees between November 2015 and December 2016. The U.S. has received about 18,000 Syrian refugees since the war broke out in 2011.
U.S. Refugee Process
The number of refugees who may be admitted each year to the U.S. is established by the President in consultation with Congress. This quota also serves as a target. Refugees comprise about 10% of the total annual immigration to the U.S.
The majority of applications for resettlement to the United States are made to U.S. embassies in foreign countries and are reviewed by the State Department. In these cases, refugee status has typically already been reviewed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and recognized by the host country. The entire process typically takes two years.
Once in the U.S. refugees receive assistance for re-settlement from federal agencies and private agencies. They are eligible for public benefits such as cash welfare and health care, but most quickly become self-sufficient.
The number of refugees entering the U.S. declined largely due to budget constraints imposed by Congress in a temporary spending measure passed last fall. After President Trump signed the travel ban in January, the number of refugee arrivals declined further. However, the number increased after a court injunction in March, but not to the previous level.
Another temporary federal spending measure that became effective in May includes funding for 75,000 refugee admissions, similar to that of previous years. In addition, it does not include any restrictions on refugee admissions.
The State Department subsequently announced that it will lift its restriction on the number of refugees allowed to enter the U.S. Refugee arrivals quickly increased, and refugee groups predicted that the number could exceed 70,000 by the end of the fiscal year. That would be below the 85,000 admitted in 2016, but higher than previously expected.