Refugees Can Rebuild—with Our Help

By Bernice Romero, Senior Director, Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy

The United States has long been a leader in resettling refugees. We demonstrate our best as a nation, uphold our values, and lead by example when we welcome refugees. But this legacy is fast eroding.

26 million men, women, and children have been forced to flee their home countries due to conflict and persecution—more than at any time in history. This is a number so large, if it were a U.S. state, it would be the third most populous. Half of these refugees are children.  

As the new Administration takes office, it should take four actions to improve the lives of people who urgently need help:

  • First, increase the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. to 125,000. The United States is a country founded and made great by the creativity, intellect, and hard work of refugees and immigrants. It can demonstrate global leadership and regain its status as the country that welcomes the most refugees by increasing refugee admissions to 125,000 per year. It must also reverse the changes to regulations, case law, and security requirements that have dramatically reduced eligibility for resettlement. Doing so would allow tens of thousands of children a safe place to be healthy, protected, and educated, and open the door to a better future for them and their families.  
  • Second, work with Congress to establish the first federally mandated refugee admissions floor. Less than 1% of all refugees are ever able to resettle and find a new life in safety and security. That strains developing countries’ limited resources and denies children an opportunity for full-time schooling and a permanent home. Legislating a refugee admissions floor will ensure the lives and futures of some of the most vulnerable people on earth are not held hostage to politics of the day.
  • Third, ensure justice and accountability for crimes committed against civilians in conflict areas, including grave violations against children. For far too long, states and armed non-state actors have failed to uphold standards in their own or others’ conduct. Governments have done little to punish violators for their crimes. In some cases, like the horrific attacks against the Rohingya that forced more than 700,000 people from their homes in 2017, the U.S. Government should place additional targeted sanction both individuals and military-owned companies complicit in atrocities. In other instances, like Syria, the U.S. Government should continue to call out violations of international humanitarian law. A clear message must be sent that crimes against civilians will not be tolerated.
  • Lastly, prioritize access to quality education for refugee children. At least 3.7 million refugee children are out of school, a figure likely worsened by the COVID pandemic. Research from the UN Refugee Agency and the Malala Fund shows that half of all refugee girls in school will not return when classrooms reopen. Governments and other actors must include refugee children in national education systems. Education is a lifesaving intervention that reduces vulnerability to physical and sexual violence, exploitation, trafficking, and forced work, and damage to emotional and mental health. The Global Compact on Refugees, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2018, commits resources and efforts to ensure that all refugee children are in school ideally within three months of arrival in a host country. Now is time to fulfill this ambition. The US must renew its commitment to the Compact. Future generations depend on it.


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