Kuala Lumpur / Nairobi – Joe Biden has vowed to increase the quota of refugees the US accepts after the numbers dropped under Trump
Joe Biden’s US presidential election has raised hopes for the resettlement of refugees from Asia to Africa, many in countries where their jobs and education are denied and have no formal status.
The United States has been taking in tens of thousands of refugees for years who are unable to return home or make a new living in the country where they sought asylum, under a process known as the resettlement of third parties countries.
But admissions under President Donald Trump dropped from 85,000 in 2016, before he took office, to 30,000 last year, according to official data. Biden has promised to lift the quota.
This has given rise to the hope that millions will disappear in camps or settlements around the world, including Joseph, a refugee from one of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities who fled to Malaysia in 2007.
“I’m hoping for a better future. I’ve lost all hope of relocation over the last four years,” Joseph said. He asked not to be fully identified.
“We can be arrested at any time if we work. We have no legal protection, no future here,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Like many countries in Asia and Africa, Malaysia, home to some 180,000 refugees, is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.
This means that people like Joseph can be considered illegal immigrants. Many turn to strange jobs to support themselves and put them in danger of being exploited and abused.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said at least 1.4 million refugees like him are awaiting third resettlement next year, but countries have provided only a fraction of the required places.
President-elect Biden is expected to try to reverse a large part of Trump’s immigration legacy, including a travel ban on 13 countries that are either majority Muslim or African.
He also said he would raise the annual ceiling for admission to refugees to 125,000, but did not indicate how quickly that would happen.
Danielle Grigsby, director of policy and practice in the US, said there were many reasons to be optimistic about more progressive refugee and immigration policies under the Biden-Harris government.
“There are very early indications from the Biden-Harris team to get rid of the totally unnecessary hurdles of deliberately delaying refugees from coming to the US,” Grigsby said.
“He has already said that he will raise the admission ceiling for refugees. He has also made it very clear that one of his policy priorities is to stop the Muslim travel ban. We are very excited.”
But other campaigners have warned that his plan could push back Republicans, who are apparently ready to retain control of the Senate.
“I am cautiously optimistic that we will see an expansion of refugee support throughout the region,” said Themba Lewis, secretary general of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network, a campaign group in Bangkok.
“We must remember that the government of Barack Obama, of which Biden was a part … was at the same time welcoming to refugees, but also harsh towards other immigrants,” he said. Three million immigrants were deported during Obama’s eight years in office.
Lewis said increasing humanitarian conflicts have driven refugees to venture even more difficult journeys, while the long wait for resettlement has led to a resurgence of xenophobia in some host countries.
In sub-Saharan Africa, where more than one in four of the 80 million refugees and displaced people in the world live, tens of thousands of people’s resettlement applications have been suspended since Trump took office in 2017.
In the Kakuma camp in northern Kenya – a sprawling settlement housing nearly 200,000 people fleeing conflict and persecution in countries such as Somalia, southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo – Biden’s victory radiates hope brought.
Refugees fleeing conflict and climate-related disasters such as droughts in Somalia have been hit hardest.
UN data show that 2,636 Somali refugees have so far been resettled in the United States under the current government against the 32,068 Somali refugees living under the second term of former president.
“The past few years have been difficult for us. The only hope we had was to get out of Kakuma and have a more dignified life where we are free and able to work. Trump’s policy has denied us that hope,” he said. Abdi, 35, said he fled Somalia in 2009.
“People here were very busy with the election results. There was a lot of talk about Biden and people are very optimistic now. I do not think he will be racist like Trump,” he said by telephone.
Sharifah Shakirah, a former Rohingya refugee who moved to Texas after 21 years in Malaysia, said resettlement was the best solution for the nearly one million members of her ethnic group living in Bangladesh after fleeing persecution in Myanmar .
“One million Rohingya in Bangladesh have no livelihood, no security, no training,” she said. “They have not been able to live there for ten years. They need a solution and relocation is one of the solutions.”