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refugee policy

Justice for All Must Guide US Refugee Policy

Words: Caroline Smith and Mariam Iskajyan
Pictures: Kyler Boone

For the countless refugees around the world who have been uprooted from their homes, an upcoming decision by the United States may mean even more trauma and instability. The Trump administration must determine by October 1st the maximum number of refugees it will allow to be admitted in the United States for Fiscal Year 2020. Reports indicate that if any of the current leaked proposals from the administration are enacted, it would further dismantle, or even possibly eliminate, the decades-long, life-saving US refugee resettlement system.

Yet, even as the Trump administration rails against refugees in the United States, it continues implementing failed foreign policies — like endless wars, climate change denialism, and the abandonment of diplomacy and equitable development — that perpetuate the global displacement crisis. A radical transformation of US foreign policy that emphasizes universal justice, acknowledges and transforms the US’ role in forced displacement, and provides refuge is necessary to end the global refugee crisis. 

It is critical to recognize that any United States action to address forced migration abroad rings hollow if the US does not open and widen its own doors to refugees and humanize its borders. Denying refuge and opportunity for a better life to displaced peoples abandons the US’ international, moral, and legal responsibilities. This is made even worse when victims and survivors of the global displacement crisis are fleeing the very same humanitarian catastrophes and conflicts the United States has helped create and sustain. 

It is critical to recognize that any United States action to address forced migration abroad rings hollow if the US does not open and widen its own doors to refugees and humanize its borders.

Such failures are reflected in the mass displacement of Afghans, with over 80 percent of the 10,000 refugees that arrived in Greece last month hailing from Afghanistan. The US has been part of the now four decades-long conflict in Afghanistan but largely denies its role in facilitating mass suffering, violence, and displacement. Instead of pursuing a justice-based approach towards Afghanistan by recognizing its role in forced displacement and prioritizing sustainable peace, the United States continues an indefinite military presence and occupation with incomplete efforts at comprehensive peace. Furthermore, the administration is reducing aid, facilitating human rights violations and civilian harm, and undermining locally-led peacebuilding efforts that seek to address the root drivers of conflict.

Similarly, in Venezuela, US policies like blanket sanctions and undermining diplomatic and humanitarian efforts have compounded the country’s displacement crisis. The Trump administration claims to stand in solidarity with the Venezuelan people and to care about their suffering, but in reality shows little concern for the millions of Venezuelans who have been forced to flee their homes. The administration has eviscerated the right to safely seek asylum at our borders and refuses to provide bipartisan-supported humanitarian immigration protections, like Temporary Protected Status (TPS), for the countless Venezuelan children and families in the United States who are at risk of deportation. 

In addition, the United States’ domestic and foreign policies should reinforce not undermine  one another to help ensure our actions at home reverberate abroad to advance global human solidarity in leading by example. When we violate international law and dehumanize people seeking refuge at our borders, we must recognize that these immoral and unjust actions cut lifelines for people seeking safety, while also emboldening others within the international community to pursue similar tactics. 

For example, Turkey has followed the United States’ lead through forced deportations of refugees and immigrants, illegal imprisonment of asylum seekers (in facilities largely funded by the European Union), and the creation of a border wall. Forced deportations of Syrian refugees have begun in earnest in Turkey, and Turkish President Recep Tayipp Erdogan has indicated he will begin mass deportations of Syrians — or will allow refugees to enter the EU — unless the US cooperates on a solution. Instead of giving Turkey more leverage to barricade and harm people seeking safety, the United States should provide funds to help assist the over 3.5 million refugees residing there, welcome Syrian refugees to the United States, and demand Turkey does not imprison refugees or deport vulnerable LGBTQ asylum-seekers

Today, humanity is experiencing the largest displacement crisis in its memory. There are some obvious solutions to help alleviate and end this crisis, chief among them is setting the number of refugees the United States accepts every year above historic averages. We also need more oversight and restrictions on the current, or any future, administration’s ability to dismantle the resettlement system. In the long-term, that means ending the drivers that feed forced migration and building global solidarity that uplifts the rights and dignity of all people.

Caroline Smith is a fall 2019 Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at Win Without War, where she focuses on topics of forced migration, global authoritarianism, and conflict. Follow her @CSmith106.

Mariam Iskajyan is the Policy and Advocacy Program Manager at Win Without War. An Armenian-American immigrant, she specializes in the intersection of US foreign policy, forced migration, and immigration justice. Follow her @mariamiskajyan.

Caroline Smith and Mariam Iskajyan

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