Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commemorated World Refugee Day on Wednesday by praising the "strength, courage, and resilience of millions of refugees worldwide," but made no mention of the Trump administration's hardline enforcement against illegal immigration that has been widely criticized.
The Trump administration is coming under fire for its treatment of asylum seekers along the southern border with Mexico and continues to reduce the number of refugees it accepts into the United States every year.
Pompeo's statement did not refer to the current situation along the border with Mexico that has generated controversy as young children, including toddlers and babies, according to an Associated Press report, have been placed in shelters after being separated from their families who illegally crossed into the US.
Pompeo touted the assistance the US has provided to refugee crises playing out in Asia, Africa and the Middle East and said the US "will continue to help the world's most vulnerable refugees, reflecting the deeply held values of the American people."
'Safety and security'
However, Pompeo also made clear in his statement that the US will look to other countries and organizations to play a bigger role in addressing the global migration crisis as the Trump administration changes its approach to both refugees - who apply for resettlement from abroad - and asylum seekers, such as those who enter along the southern US border after traveling from Central America.
Pompeo's statement highlights the over $200 million the United States has provided to address the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh, and the nearly $277 million the United States has donated to the calamity in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but is notable for its omission of the conditions of certain countries in Central America that currently drive the large numbers of individuals seeking asylum in the United States.
"Since 1975, the United States has accepted more than 3.3 million refugees for permanent resettlement - more than any other country in the world," Pompeo said in the statement. "The United States will continue to prioritize the admission of the most vulnerable refugees while upholding the safety and security of the American people."
In September, the Trump administration announced it would cap refugee admissions for the upcoming fiscal year at 45,000, with regional caps of 19,000 for Africa, 17,500 for the Near East and South Asia (which includes most Middle Eastern countries), 5,000 for East Asia, 2,000 for Europe and Central Asia, and 1,500 for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Since the start of the fiscal year, the US has admitted just under 15,600 refugees, compared to over 46,400 during the same time period in the final year of the Obama administration, according to publicly available government data.
These numbers include only people who are legally qualified as "refugees," meaning they are referred to the US for resettlement by the United Nations. It does not include individuals who seek asylum from within the US, or from a US port of entry, and therefore does not include Central American migrants who arrive through the southern US border, though these applicants are often fleeing similar violence and persecution.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Wednesday the US received the highest number of asylum applications amongst nations in the 37 country organization, with 329,800 applications registered in 2017 alone - a 26% increase in asylum applications to the US, replacing Germany as the top destination of those seeking refuge within the group.
In its most recent annual report on Global Trends in Forced Migration, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), notes that "the US received the largest number of new claims for asylum with 331,700 in 2017 - nearly double the 172,700 claims from two years previous and a continuation of an upward trend that began in 2013."
Refugees International, an independent refugee advocacy group, issued a report card Wednesday on the Trump administration's handling of refugee issues and humanitarian protection, and gave it an "F," noting that it has weakened US domestic refugee law, humanitarian policy and the political asylum process significantly.
Pompeo's statement, which lauded the work of the UNHCR, comes a day after the US announced it was withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council.