Biden announces restoring US refugee admission numbers

Move will reverse historic lows in refugee acceptance under Trump and address high need for resettlement globally

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US President Joe Biden on Thursday announced that he would increase annual refugee admissions to 125,000 after a significant decrease under the Trump administration.

The decision will be formalised in an executive order, Mr Biden said in his first foreign policy speech during a visit to the US State Department in Washington.

He addressed the need to resettle historic numbers of refugees.

"Today, I'm approving an executive order to begin the hard work of restoring our refugee admissions programme to help meet the unprecedented global need," Mr Biden said on Thursday.

"It's going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged."

The Trump administration cut the refugee admissions cap to 15,000, the lowest since the 1980 Refugee Act took effect.

Mr Biden's increase, part of a presidential campaign promise, will take effect in the next fiscal year starting on October 1, 2021, when he signs the executive order.

“The action today by President Biden will save lives. It’s that simple,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.

“It also shows that strength is rooted in compassion. It signals that the United States will do its part, as it has historically done, to help the world’s most vulnerable people, including by welcoming them.”

A December 2020 report by the UN refugee agency states there are 1.4 million refugees in the world in need of resettlement.

Mr Grandi hopes that the pledge made by the Biden administration will influence other countries to boost refugee acceptance, especially with admission rates lowered by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We applaud the restoration of the US resettlement programme,” he said.

“Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we remind countries of the life-threatening circumstances that refugees face and encourage them to continue to expand their resettlement programmes.”

Since 2014, the UN has reported record annual increases in numbers of refugees and displaced people fleeing conflict, war and climate change.

As of mid-2020, there were more than 80 million forcibly displaced people in the world.

Mr Biden also said he would issue a presidential memorandum that reflected US policy towards LGBTQ people around the world.

He said it would fight "criminalisation and protecting LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers".