The number of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States after fleeing their war-torn homeland has plummeted to just 44 since the first of October — down from around 6,000 in the same period a year ago, according to the Refugee Processing Center, run by the U.S. State Department.
The release of new data on the dramatic decrease in refugees comes at a time when world attention is again focused on the war in Syria, following a suspected chemical attack April 7 on the town of Douma which activists said killed more than 40. The attack prompted punitive U.S., British and French missile strikes.
A look at the steep drop-off, and what’s behind the numbers:
The United States, which traditionally took in the largest number of refugees, has scaled back its resettlement program under the Trump administration. The U.S. has welcomed more than 20,000 Syrian refugees since 2011, including around 2,000 since President Donald Trump took office. However, since November, admissions have nearly screeched to a halt, with only 11 Syrian refugees getting in.
The big decline coincides with the president’s stricter security protocols for refugees from Syria, which are making it more difficult for Syrians to get approved to come to the U.S. An executive order from last October imposed restrictions on refugees whom the administration decided warranted extra screening. It’s believed the new procedures affect people who are citizens of or have lived in 11 countries, including Syria.
Throughout the civil war, more child refugees have been allowed into the United States than any other age group. Out of the Syrians who have resettled in the United States since 2011, almost half have been children younger than 14. But since October, only 10 of the new arrivals have been children under 14. That’s compared to almost 2,700 Syrian children 13 or younger who resettled in the United States during the same period last year.
THE STATE DEPARTMENT
Officials at the State Department say new vetting protocols are “enabling departments and agencies to more thoroughly review applicants to identify threats to public safety and national security.” They added that the new procedures may make processing slower.
THE WAR IN SYRIA
The UN Refugee Agency estimates that more than 5.4 million people have fled Syria since the war broke out over seven years ago.
The Trump administration set a cap of 45,000 refugees for the fiscal year, but advocates are estimating that actual numbers will not reach anywhere near that high. The State Department said that 45,000 is “not a quota but represents an upper limit of refugee admissions for this fiscal year.”