The US has sharply reduced the cap on the number of refugees it will resettle. But officials say it is still much more generous than its allies.
The US will slash its annual refugee intake, the US State Department announced on Wednesday.
The US will resettle a maximum of 45,000 refugees in the upcoming fiscal year, the State Department said. It is the lowest cap since the modern US refugee admissions system was established in 1980.
Some 54,000 refugees were admitted in the fiscal year that ends this Sunday. In 2016, the last full year of the Barack Obama administration, 84,995 refugees were admitted. Obama had said the US would welcome 110,000 refugees in the 2017 fiscal year.
The intake of refugees was halted shortly after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, when he ordered a six-month review of security procedures for vetting new arrivals.
US officials said they hoped to complete the review next month and announce new controls, but that arrivals next year will be reduced.
"The security and safety of the American people is our chief concern," a senior US official told reporters on a call to announce the new figure.
"We need to ensure refugee resettlement opportunities go to those who are eligible for such protection and who are not known to present a risk to the safety or the security of our country."
Still generous, officials claim
Officials claimed the lower figure was still the most generous refugee acceptance program in the world, noting that Canada will welcome 25,000 refugees next year and Australia about 18,000.
As before, the intake is broken up into regional allocations, with a cap of 19,000 refugees from Africa, 5,000 from East Asia, 2,000 from Europe and Central Asia, 1,500 from Latin America and the Caribbean, and 17,500 from the Middle East and South Asia. The new ceiling removes the category of 14,000 refugees that could come from any region.
The decision drew criticism from aid groups who said refugee crises have worsened, pointing to Syria, Myanmar and South Sudan. Several groups urged Trump to adopt a figure closer to Obama's goal of 110,000.
"With historically high numbers of innocent people fleeing violence worldwide, the United States response cannot be to welcome a historically low number of refugees into our country," said Bill O'Keefe of Catholic Relief Services.
The International Refugee Assistance Project, part of the New York-based Urban Justice Center, said the US was abdicating its leadership role on humanitarian issues while the world was grappling with the largest number of refugees since World War II.
"Resettlement is only an option in the most urgent refugee cases," said Betsy Fisher, IRAP's policy director.
"It's hard to comprehend why the administration would move to limit resettlement, when the need is greater than ever. We are abandoning desperate people in life-or-death situations, including children with medical emergencies, US wartime allies, and survivors of torture."
Across the world there were 22.5 million refugees last year, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Many more people were internally displaced within their home countries.
Migration is causing scoring deep political divisions in countries such as Germany, following the arrival of more than a million people seeking asylum in 2015 and 2016. A possible refugee cap looks set to be a major sticking point in negotiations between four parties to form a coalition government.
aw/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)