Defense

UN refugee chief: Trump refugee cap takes away 'life saving' option

President Trump's slashing of the number of refugees allowed to be resettled in the United States leaves thousands without a "life saving" option and hurts the United Nations' efforts at increasing resettlement numbers across the world, the top U.N. refugee official told a small group of reporters in Washington on Friday.

"If you cut in half that figure, it means that all those that this fiscal year, 40,000 people that are very vulnerable will not have this as an option to go to the United States, and this can be life saving, could be life saving for many of them," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said.

"Of course we are working with many other countries, and we have new countries that are coming up and resettling refugees, like Brazil, like Argentina, Chile, especially in South America, which is positive, but they have not made up the difference that we have lost here."

The Trump administration announced last month that it is capping the number of refugees admitted into the United States in fiscal 2018 at 45,000 people, the lowest the cap has ever been.

That's compared to the nearly 85,000 refugees resettled in the United States in fiscal 2016. Former President Obama set a goal of admitting 110,000 refugees in 2017, though Trump slashed it to 50,000 in his travel ban executive order.

Still, 45,000 remains the highest refugee resettlement number in the world.

Administration officials argued the cap is necessary to allow for proper vetting and to decrease a backlog of asylum claims, which are filed by people already in the United States.

In addition to other countries not making up the difference that the United States has cut, Grandi said America lowering its caps hurts his leverage in negotiating for other countries to increase theirs.

"When I go to Lebanon or to Kenya or now to Bangladesh is the new one, and I tell them, 'Please keep your borders open,' or in the case of Lebanon, 'Keep them another year or two because it's premature to go back,' like I just explained, they will say, 'Well, you know, we have a million. We're a country of four million.'

"Or Bangladesh will say, 'We don't have land available for even our people. We're overpopulated.' Or Pakistan will say, 'We've had Afghans for 40 years in the hundreds of thousands.' So, you know, in the past, I could say, 'Look, there is at least a bit of sharing of this burden by countries like the U.S.'

"If that sharing diminishes, my, may I use this word, my negotiating, humanitarian negotiating power diminishes as well," he said.

Grandi was in Washington for meetings this week on Capitol Hill, as well as with administration officials such as national security adviser H.R. McMaster. He also attended a gala Thursday night where Trump was present and first lady Melania Trump spoke, though Grandi said that "was not the place to negotiate."

Grandi said those he's met with have been receptive to and understanding of his message. He was particularly surprised, he said, at lawmakers' concerns for the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, saying he had been prepared to stimulate interest in the crisis himself.

Still, some have raised the vetting issue in meetings, he said. And asked if Trump understands what he's told administration officials, Grandi said, "I hope he gets these messages."

Grandi said that it is "of course" individual countries' prerogatives to review and improve their vetting processes. But, he said, once that is done, he hopes the cap is raised again. 

"If they want do more," he said, "and you know, any administration should be concerned about security in their own country - if they want to do more, what we are urging them is to look into that and once they're satisfied that the process will be sound ... let's reconsider an increase."

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