This is What the Travel Ban Executive Order Means for Refugees Around the World

Life for some of the most vulnerable people on the planet just got measurably more difficult.

The new executive order that re-instates a travel ban from six Muslim majority countries also imposes a months long pause on all refugee resettlement to the USA, and significantly reduces the number of people who may find safe haven in the United States. Virtually all refugees will be banned from the entering the USA for the next 120 days; and then the USA will reduce the cap of all refugees eligible for resettlement in this fiscal year at 50,000.

To put this in context: there are over 60 million displaced people around the world. Of these, over 21 million are refugees who have fled their country. The vast majority of these refugees have fled across one border; say from Syria to Jordan, or South Sudan to Uganda.

Most of these refugees would like to return home. Others would prefer to be integrated into their host country. But for a small minority these are not viable options. These refugees require what is known as “resettlement” to a third country.

By definition, the refugees who qualify for resettlement are the most vulnerable cohort of an already vulnerable population.

They include torture victims, widows with special needs children, gay people under threat and others with extremely extenuating circumstances. Of the 23 million refugees around the world, only about 0.8% qualify for third country resettlement.

It is just this tiny fraction of the global refugee population who even qualify to apply for resettlement to the USA and elsewhere. But now, this new executive order puts those applications on ice.

The United States has historically been the single largest country to resettle refugees, taking in about half of the total number of refugees resettled around the world (followed by Canada, Australia, Norway and the UK.) This amounted to about 85,000 people last year. The Democratic Republic of the Congo was the single largest source of refugees resettled to the USA, followed by Syria and Myanmar.

The process to identify and vet individuals and families who may qualify for third country resettlement is intense. It begins with the UN Refugee Agency, who does the initial screening and then refers the cases to the governments of potential host countries. From there, countries like the USA and Canada begin their own screening processes. It can takes years of security checks for a family or individual to be approved for resettlement to the USA.

But now, under this order, that process will come to a halt. This could effect tens of thousands of people. The UN Refugee Agency estimated that that a 120 day halt to refugee resettlement to the USA would affect some 20,000 people who would otherwise have been resettled. Further, the USA is capping the total number of admitted refugees at 50,000, the lowest cap in nearly 20 years. And this crackdown comes as the world is experiencing a surge in refugees.

The most vulnerable people on the planet are now in an even more precarious position.