Posted by Guest on June 20, 2018 in Blog

By Allison Ulven

On June 20, the United Nations recognizes World Refugee Day to raise awareness about the the ongoing crises and ask that people do anything they can to help those in need. As people around the world continue to flee their homes in search of shelter, opportunity, and hope, it is important that we stay informed and show our support.

2017 saw a rapid increase of refugees. By the middle of the year, the number of people under the UNHCR’s mandate surpassed the 18 million mark for the first time, with 18.5 million. At the end of the year, 71.4 million people were “of concern to the UNHCR” including asylum-seekers, refugees, returnees, the internally displaced, and stateless. Multiple countries are in states of emergency and have been facing ongoing crises for many years.

The “largest net increase” took place in South Sudan, with a 37 percent increase. Due to a civil war that began in 2013, there have been 2.4 million refugees in the region. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) currently faces “one of the most complex and challenging humanitarian situations worldwide.” By the end of 2017, 4.5 million people had been displaced within the DRC, and the crisis has been classified by the United Nations at the highest level of emergency.

As of April 30, 2018, 21 million people have been internally displaced in Iraq, a country plagued with violence and consists of little to no human rights. After an outbreak of violence in 2017, the situation in Rohingya became “the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis” with over half a million people working to escape Myanmar. 2018 marks the fifth year of the crisis in Nigeria in which the Boko Haram group has left 2.2 million displaced in the Lake Chad Basin.

Already one of the poorest countries in the world, the Central African Republic in 2017 has seen the most refugees since the beginning of the crisis, a 60% increase from the previous year. In Yemen, 22.2 million are “in need of humanitarian assistance.” Many are struggling to find safety but with no real alternatives, one million displaced have already tried to return to their homes even though they are not safe.  

But the worst is in Syria, “the biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time.” Eight years of civil war has left 13.1 million people in need, and the country accounts for almost one third of the global refugee population.

The largest number of refugees hosted by any single country is in Turkey. With 3.2 million refugees, Turkey hosts more refugees than any other country, and it increased its number by 12 percent in just the first half of 2017 and surpassed the rest of Europe which only took in 2.5 million combined. 5.7 million were hosted by Sub-Saharan Africa, 3.6 million by Asia and the Pacific, and 2.7 million by the Middle East and North Africa. The Americas hosted 705,000.

Although the situations continued to worsen, the United States did not adjust its policies. According to records from the Department of State, from January to December 2016, the U.S. admitted 96,874 refugees, 15,479 of which were Syrian. From January to December 2017, 33,368 refugees were admitted, and 3,024 were Syrian. So far in 2018, only 9,008 refugees have been admitted, and as little as 13 of them were Syrian.

For the refugees admitted to host countries, it is still a daily struggle and fight for life. In Jordan, one of the top hosting countries, more than 655,000 refugees are “trapped in exile,” and 93% are living below the poverty line. Those who survive the journey across the Mediterranean to reach Europe face hostility and abuse, and sometimes are even forced back across the borders.

Since the 2016 election, more and more Americans have developed a hostile view of immigrants and refugees, misled by distorted information and harmful rhetoric painting these people as dangerous and calling them “illegal.” However, credible sources disprove the rhetoric and conspiracies often presented by the current administration. According to a report from the American Immigration Council on the Criminalization of Immigration in the United States, while the number of “unauthorized immigrants” grew from 3.5 to 11.2 million from 1990 - 2013, the violent crime rate decreased by 48%. It also stated that immigrants are “less likely to engage in violent or nonviolent antisocial behaviors” and are less likely “to be repeat offenders among ‘high risk’ adolescents.” Immigrants also account for significant contributions to the U.S. economy. A report from the Institute on Tax and Economic Policy found that in 2013, undocumented immigrants paid $11.64 billion in state and local taxes. It is also estimated that they pay $15 billion per year to Social Security, “without any expectation of ever collecting benefits.” By granting these immigrants legal status and allowing them to work, their tax contributions would increase by more than $2.1 billion per year.

The United States cannot continue to turn our heads and close our doors. On World Refugee Day, it’s time to stand for refugees and immigrants and stand against the Muslim Ban.

Allison Ulven is a Summer 2018 intern at the Arab American Institute.