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The United States resettled fewer refugees compared with all other countries in 2017, according to recent analysis of “new data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)” by the Pew Research Center. The year 2017 marked “the first time since the adoption of the 1980 U.S. Refugee Act that the U.S. resettled fewer refugees than the rest of the world.” Over the past four decades, the United States has resettled nearly three-fourths of the overall population of refugees worldwide. Last year, however, other countries led the United States and were responsible for resettling more than double the number of refugees it accepted.

The 33,000 refugees which the United States resettled in 2017 mark “the country’s lowest total since the years following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a steep drop from 2016, when it resettled about 97,000 [refugees],” according to Pew. Notably, however, even the combined total of non-U.S. refugee resettlements last year—which totaled 69,000—is smaller than the 92,000 refugees that were resettled the year before. The total number of refugees resettled worldwide in 2017 was 103,000, a nearly fifty percent decrease from the 189,000 refugees resettled in 2016. Pew states that this “decline included decreases in other leading countries in refugee resettlement, such as Canada and Australia, though the drops in these countries were more modest than those in the U.S.” The only other year the United States came close to losing its global lead in refugee resettlements was in 2003, when it accepted only 1,000 more refugees (28,000) than the rest of the world (27,000).

What is perhaps most striking is that the general decline in refugee resettlement is occurring at a time when the global population of refugees—which accounts for “nearly a third (30%) of the world’s displaced population”—has shot up by 2.75 million “and reached a record 19.9 million in 2017, according to UNHCR.” This, according to Pew, “exceeds the high in 1990, following the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

Despite these downward trends, and despite being globally outranked, the United States continues to be a world leader in the total number of refugees it has resettled in 2017 compared with any other single country. Time will tell whether the United States will maintain its leading role in refugee resettlement, or fall behind. 

Access Pew’s analysis here, and UNHCR’s data here.

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