The International Rescue Committee warned Wednesday that a record number of refugees need permanent resettlement, even as resettlement is on track to dip for the fourth year in a row in a world ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The virus delayed resettlement for about 10,000 refugees, according to the IRC, which encouraged countries to restart resettlement programs as soon as is safe and prioritize previously approved refugees.
“The COVID-19 pandemic must not be used as justification to permanently restrict or reduce programs,” said IRC President and CEO David Miliband in a statement Wednesday. “It is imperative that existing programs are resumed as soon as possible — additional delays will only leave vulnerable refugees in limbo for longer.”
Miliband specifically called on the United States to prioritize refugees whose resettlement was delayed by the pandemic. Last year, the U.S. was the largest receiver of U.N.-facilitated refugees for resettlement. The IRC statement came days after U.S. President Donald Trump extended a freeze on new green cards and suspended new work visas, which he said was meant to help the U.S. economy recover from pandemic shutdowns.
About 1.4 million of the nearly 26 million refugees worldwide are particularly vulnerable to violence, according to Amnesty International, and need immediate resettlement. In 2019, only 64,000 of these at-risk refugees were resettled through the United Nations Refugee Agency, or 4.5%. That is less than half the number resettled in 2016, a program high. Resettlement could sink even lower this year, according to the U.N.