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Trump cuts US refugee admissions for 2021 to record low

Citing Covid-19, Trump administration advises Congress it will accept fewer than 15,000 refugees in 2021
The State Department anticipates nearly 300,000 asylum and refugee claims in the upcoming year.
State Department anticipates almost 300,000 asylum and refugee claims in forthcoming year (AFP/File photo)
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The Trump administration has informed Congress it intends to accept only 15,000 refugees during fiscal year 2021, a historic low for the US.

In a media note sent less than an hour before the end of the fiscal year 2020, the State Department said late on Wednesday that it intended to admit a maximum of 15,000 refugees for 2021, 3,000 fewer than the 18,000 ceiling the administration had set for 2020.

The refugee cap reflects the Trump administration's "continuing commitment to prioritise the safety and well-being of Americans, especially in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic," the State Department said.

'President Trump has harsher words for innocent refugees than for the dictators they are escaping'

- Senators Dick Durbin and Dianne Feinstein

The number of refugee admissions decided on by the administration comes as it anticipates almost 300,000 asylum and refugee claims in the forthcoming year, adding to a pile of already backlogged asylum cases topping more than one million.

The department stressed the need for "American diplomacy" and ending conflicts to lessen the number of refugees across the world, rather than accepting them onto its shores.

The number would be the lowest since the conception of the US Refugee Admissions Programme (USRAP), and since the passage of the Refugee Resettlement Act in 1980.

The announcement also comes as President Donald Trump has sought to turn refugees into a political issue to help his re-election bid.

Trump's anti-refugee stance

Democratic Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Dianne Feinstein of California both denounced the refugee cap as a "cruel decision."

"With this cruel decision, America has abandoned its leadership role in providing safety to refugees who are most in need of resettlement," they said in a statement on Thursday.

"The Administration's actions are a shameful betrayal of our longstanding bipartisan tradition of generosity and strength and accomplish nothing except failing to protect innocent victims of persecution who pose no threat to our security and have turned to America for safety.

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"President Trump has harsher words for innocent refugees than for the dictators they are escaping," they said.

In March, President Donald Trump suspended all refugee admissions during an upsurge in novel coronavirus cases in the country.

As of 25 September, fewer than 11,000 refugees had been admitted to the US, according to the Refugee Processing Center, and it is unclear if Washington will admit the full 18,000 individuals it allowed for.

The more than 16.5 percent reduction was announced shortly after Trump vilified refugees as an unwanted burden at a campaign rally in Duluth, Minnesota, where he assailed his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.

"Biden will turn Minnesota into a refugee camp," Trump said to boos from his supporters.

"And he said that - overwhelming public resources, overcrowding schools and inundating hospitals. You know that. It's already there. It's a disgrace what they've done to your state."

In addition to decreasing refugee admissions, the Trump administration has also cut $350m in annual aid to the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), which tends to the humanitarian needs of about five million Palestinian refugees. Previously, Washington was the largest donor for the agency.