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U.S. sees sharp dropoff in refugee arrivals over past 6 months; Michigan mirrors national trend

The non-profit agency Samaritas is the largest resettler of refugees in Michigan.
Courtesy of Samaritas
The non-profit agency Samaritas is the largest resettler of refugees in Michigan.

The number of refugees re-settled in Michigan has dropped sharply over the past six months.

That parallels a larger national trend, according to new analysis of U.S. State Department data from the Pew Research Center.

Pew examined refugee resettlement data from October 2016 through April of this year.

Nationwide, there were 9,945 refugees re-settled in October. By April, that number had declined by about two-thirds, to just 3,316.

Michigan mirrored that same pattern. The state re-settled 563 refugees last October, the third-highest number in the nation at that time.

“But come April 2017, the end of the time period that we’re looking at, there were 168 refugees that were resettled [in Michigan] during that month,” said Phillip Connor, a Pew research associate who analyzed the data.

Connor says Michigan refugee numbers did tick up slightly from March to April, also mirroring the national trend.

“Nationwide, the number of refugee arrivals decreased in each of the first five months of the fiscal year, the longest consecutive monthly decline on record,” Connor wrote.

The U.S. fell just short of meeting President Obama’s goal to accept 85,000 refugeesin the 2016 fiscal year.

The Pew report doesn’t delve into the reasons behind the decline.

But President Trump’s “travel ban” executive order targets refugees and people from six majority-Muslim nations. It also caps refugee arrivals for the current 2017 fiscal year at 50,000.

That order has been held up in the face of multiple court challenges. But the resulting uncertainty and increased emphasis on “extreme vetting” has slowed processing, leaving many locally-based refugee resettlement agencies in a state of limbo.

Despite the sharp dropoff in numbers, Connor said the demographics of incoming refugees remain largely unchanged. The top countries of origin remain the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Iraq, and Somalia. Both Syria and Somalia are two of the six countries covered by the revised “travel ban.”

As for religious affiliation, that also remains unchanged, “Which means there’s a slightly higher number of Muslims than Christians that entered the United States,” Connor said.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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