Trump’s Cuts to US Refugee Program Lead to 300-plus Layoffs

The president’s desire to cut refugees is also costing U.S. jobs.

A reduction in refugee resettlement that began after an executive order by President Donald Trump in late January has led to at least 300 layoffs in the U.S. nonprofit sector and nearly 500 positions abroad, according to data collected by VOA. In some cases, the jobs slashed were held by resettled refugees.

A review of news releases, media reports, and information obtained from a survey sent by VOA to the nine primary resettlement agencies shows that seven of those organizations contracted by the government to coordinate refugees’ first months and years of living in the United States have had layoffs at their headquarters and local offices around the country, or at affiliate and partner organizations.

VOA documented more than 300 part-time and full-time positions cut in the United States, including:

Additional organizations reported cutting employees’ hours and not filling vacancies to trim budgets.

“Our budget as a refugee resettlement agency was heavily dependent on the government funding and the suspension and reduction of U.S. admissions for 2017 as well as [the] same dim prospect for 2018 has caused a huge negative impact on agencies like ours,” Aklilu Adeye, Executive Director of the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago, told VOA in an email. The organization recently cut five positions.

The tally is not exhaustive: Two of the nine primary resettlement organizations � Episcopal Migration Ministries and International Rescue Committee � did not respond to VOA’s request for information or make that figure otherwise public; the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops � historically one of the most active resettlement agencies � declined to provide data or comment about layoffs.

After the first executive order in January that would have stopped refugee arrivals for four months and cut the overall number for the fiscal year to 50,000, Sister Donna Markham, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, said that the program’s suspension would affect about 700 employees of Catholic Charities agencies nationwide, “with layoffs expected for nearly all of the workers.”

“If we’re talking about American jobs, this is laying off people in these public-private partnerships,” she told the National Catholic Reporter in February.

Overseas, Church World Service has laid off almost all 600 staff members at its Resettlement Support Center Africa, which coordinates with the State Department under a separate part of the refugee process from U.S.-based affiliates: 484 in Kenya, 27 in South Africa, and 19 in Tanzania.

“The decision to reduce our staff was a direct result of these executive orders, which sabotage our ability to offer vital services, support and counsel to families seeking to rebuild their lives in safety,” CWS President and CEO Reverend John L. McCullough said in a statement in March.

The contracts between the government and the nonprofit organizations � some of which have resettled refugees for decades � are based per capita on how many refugees are resettled by the agencies. They receive about $900 for each refugee to cover the administrative costs of helping the newcomers in their first 90 days in the country, from picking them up at the airport, setting up their first home and enrolling children in school, to hosting English classes and advising on job searches. Another $1,125 goes directly to each refugee for initial costs of setting up their lives in the United States, such as rent and furniture.

Fewer arrivals mean less funding, and that jeopardizes jobs � including some held by refugees themselves, who often are hired to interpret for members of their community or find other positions in the resettlement field.

In some cases, the nonprofit organizations are planning to receive thousands fewer refugees than anticipated by the end of the fiscal year.

From high hopes to layoffs

The fiscal year started with a surge ordered by then-President Barack Obama: The United States would take 110,000 refugees � more than it had in decades.

But those plans came to a screeching halt in late January, when one of Trump’s initial executive orders trimmed that number to 50,000; a revised order in March upheld the president’s call for that 55 percent reduction.

Despite federal lawsuits and injunctions rolling back those orders, the president maintains broad power over the ultimate number of refugees that will be allowed into the country. Trump has repeatedly expressed interest in significantly lower arrivals, leaning on what he says is a lack of confidence in the screening process for admitted refugees � although refugees are among the most rigorously vetted immigrants to the U.S.

Many resettlement organizations signed amicus briefs in support of lawsuits that challenged the refugee-related executive order, stating in one case that “faith-based refugee organizations’ ability to maintain operations and services moving forward has been devastated.”

The nonprofits have tried to rally financial support from the public in recent months, but several indicated in phone and email interviews that donations would not make up for any reduction in funding from the government.

The government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement operated on a budget of $1.67 billion in fiscal year 2016. That includes more than services for refugee resettlement, however. The bureau handles other programs, such as anti-trafficking efforts, and unaccompanied children. ORR asked for $2.18 billion for FY2017.

Refugee admissions in flux

So far this fiscal year, the U.S. has resettled about 42,000 refugees, but there has been no final word from the executive branch about how many more will be allowed in. The administration could halt the process abruptly at 50,000. At the current rate of arrivals � 800 to 900 individuals a week � that cap would be reached around the end of June or early July. (Last year, the country admitted 84,995.)

Fluctuations in the weekly refugee arrival numbers since Trump’s inauguration Jan. 20 reflect a system rattled by uncertainty, though in recent weeks that number has stabilized to align with a State Department comment to Huffington Post, indicating a goal of about 900 arrivals a week.

Trump promised to dramatically change not only the number of refugees admitted but the composition of where they come from and what religions they are, initially pledging to block Syrians and increase the number of Christians. However, the demographics remain nearly identical to those from before Trump took office.

A VOA analysis of refugee arrival data from Oct. 1 to Jan. 20 � the part of the fiscal year under Obama � compared with data from the beginning of Trump’s term until the end of March, shows the top 10 origin countries remain the same (DRC, Syria, Somalia, Burma, Iraq, Ukraine, Bhutan, Iran, Eritrea and Afghanistan). At the beginning of the fiscal year, about 48 percent of arriving refugees were Muslim. That figure is now 46 percent. Forty-three percent were Christian, which remained the same under Trump.

Lavinia Limon, head of USCRI, emphasizes that while U.S. refugee policy may leave some people out of work now, she believes the greater toll is on refugees awaiting resettlement. Even as the United States reduces its intake, the need for finding permanent new home-countries for some refugees remains the same.

“USCRI has been around for 104 years, and we have seen a lot of different politicians and politics surrounding the issues related to refugees and immigrants come and go,” Limon said. “I believe the focus needs to be on those thousands of refugees who will not be rescued and who will continue to suffer and might lose their lives because of politics in their homeland and politics in America.

“Whatever financial strain we may experience pales in comparison to their plights,” she added.

Source: Voice of America

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Re-emergence of Armed Groups among Challenges Facing Great Lakes Region, Special Envoy Says in Security Council Briefing

Democratic Republic of Congo Representative Recounts Extradition of Ex-Fighters

Africa’s Great Lakes region – having made some progress in implementing its 2013 Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework – still faced critical challenges, including the re-emergence of violent non-State armed groups, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy told the Security Council during a briefing today.

Said Djinnit, Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, described efforts to implement the Framework, known formally as the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region. He presented the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2017/208), saying that a recent summit of the Framework’s regional oversight mechanism had generated renewed commitment among signatories. There had also been promising steps in the area of regional cooperation, as well as efforts to address the root causes of conflict, he said.

Nevertheless, the persistent activities of illegal armed groups remained a major challenge to the security of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the wider region, he warned. Calling for such groups as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) to be neutralized, he said the Force Intervention Brigade of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) must enhance offensive operations targeting such groups. He described the recent incursion into the Democratic Republic of the Congo by former members of the March 23 Movement (M23) armed group as a setback, and said further efforts were needed to address the “daunting challenge” of repatriating former combatants.

During the ensuing debate, speakers welcomed the Great Lakes countries’ renewed commitment to the Framework, while simultaneously voicing concern over the escalating activities of armed groups, and various political processes that remained deadlocked. Delegates expressed particular alarm about the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with Ethiopia’s representative emphasizing that it lay at the “epicentre” of the region’s security dynamics.

The United Kingdom’s representative pointed to “stalling” on the part of those parties, saying that “sadly, obstacles go beyond inertia” in relation to implementation of the Political Agreement. Echoing the concerns of several other delegations, he said the lack of consensus surrounding the new Prime Minister’s appointment only aggravated the already deteriorating security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A number of speakers, including Italy’s representative, expressed serious concern over escalating violence in that country’s Kasai region, stressing that parties on the ground must “pull out all the stops” to investigate allegations of crimes being committed there. Those responsible for murdering two United Nations experts in Kasai must be held accountable as soon as possible, he stressed. He also called for targeted efforts to address the re-emergence of M23 fighters, support refugees, and continue the intra-Burundian dialogue.

The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said the Secretary-General’s report underscored the efforts of his country’s Government, alongside MONUSCO, to neutralize various active armed groups. Recalling the Government’s successful extradition of several of their leaders, as per the Framework’s stipulations, he noted that some neighbouring countries continued to harbour former M23 fighters. On the political situation, he said the Council should refrain from involvement with the opposition party, the specificities of which it did not understand.

Also speaking today were representatives of France, Senegal, Russian Federation, Japan, China, Egypt, Ukraine, Uruguay, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Bolivia and the United States.

The meeting began at 4:37 p.m. and ended at 6:30 p.m.

Briefing

SAID DJINNIT, Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, presented the most recent report of the Secretary-General on the situation in the region (document S/2017/208), highlighting progress in implementing the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region during the reporting period. Recalling that Angola had recently hosted the seventh summit of the regional oversight mechanism, he said that meeting had generated renewed commitment among the region’s States. Nevertheless, the persistent activities of illegal armed groups remained a major challenge to the security of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the wider region, he said, calling for the neutralization of groups including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).

Emphasizing that the Force Intervention Brigade of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) must enhance offensive operations targeting such groups, he welcomed the February launch of the Joint Follow-up Mechanism targeting the threat posed by armed groups, and called upon States to actively support it. The recent incursion into the Democratic Republic of the Congo by former members of the M23 armed group represented a setback in that regard, he said, adding that his Office would continue to address security issues in the east of the country. He went on to describe the cooperation between his Office and regional Governments in addressing the activities of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) in South Sudan, as well as the daunting challenge of repatriating former combatants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and neighbouring countries.

There had been a number of promising steps in the area of regional cooperation during the reporting period, he said, noting that his Office continued to support joint efforts to address root causes of conflict, including by supporting the empowerment of women, addressing displacement, tackling the illicit exploitation of natural resources, reducing youth unemployment and fighting impunity. Outlining efforts to support the inter-Burundian dialogue, he said the forthcoming Summit of East African States would offer a chance for countries to renew their commitment to support the Burundian parties as they sought a consensus solution to the challenges facing their nation. Calling also for an intra-Congolese dialogue, he urged all parties in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to create an environment conducive to peaceful elections and to abstain from any action that could lead to violence. In that regard, the United Nations, the African Union, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and other relevant actors must continue to coordinate their activities in support of the 31 December Peace Agreement, he said.

Statements

FRANCOIS DELATTRE (France) expressed concern about the slow implementation of the Addis Ababa Framework Agreement and the political situations in both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi. Concerning the trafficking of goods and resources, he said that as long as the illicit trade remained prevalent, there could be no stability in the region. On the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said France was “very alarmed” at the failure to implement the 31 December Peace Agreement, and voiced concern over the appointment of a Prime Minister who had not enjoyed consensus. In Burundi, where there had been no real improvement, he said “genuine and authentic” commitment to dialogue was lacking, and “the situation keeps getting worse by the day”. Recalling Burundi’s previous stabilizing role on the continent, he said restoring peace and stability in that country required a political solution to the current crisis, under mediation by the East African Community. Political leaders must also live up to their responsibilities and ensure that years of international investment had not been for nought, he stressed.

GORGUI CISS (Senegal) said the situation in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo remained concerning, particularly with the resurgence of M23 fighters, a development that underscored the importance of implementing the Nairobi Declaration. All United Nations efforts must be aimed at finding an apt solution to the security issue, he added, expressing concern at the increase in violence and urging a swift response. Noting that the number of refugees and displaced persons in the region exceeded 6 million, he noted with concern the instability prevailing in spite of various processes and political dialogues. Welcoming progress in the implementation of the Framework Agreement, he said the same trend should apply in disarmament efforts targeting armed groups.

PETR V. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) said armed groups remained active, prolonging inter-ethnic conflict and exacerbating the humanitarian situation. He urged comprehensive measures to remove the underlying causes of the conflict and expressing concern over the repatriation of armed groups to neighbouring countries. Lack of progress on the latter had already led to repeat offences by combatants, he noted. Another challenge was that allies of Riek Machar remained present in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said.

YASUHISA KAWAMURA (Japan) noted that transitional institutions had yet to be created three months after the 31 December Political Agreement, calling again on the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to lead, and on all political actors to expedite the political process. On Burundi, he welcomed the recent meeting between President Pierre Nkurunziza and the Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Burundi configuration. However, he expressed deep concern about the suspension of cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) amid reports of serious human rights violations, and especially the climate of impunity surrounding Imbonerakure. Maintaining a United Nations presence would benefit Burundi, he said, stressing the importance of African Union engagement, including the deployment of African Union observers. Japan fully supported the East African Community-led mediation and was confident that Heads of State in the subregion would provide strong guidance to the Facilitator in leading an inclusive dialogue process, he said. Japan had recently decided to give $18 million in aid to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia, particularly for refugees and food security.

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia), recalling that the situation in the Great Lakes countries had been recently discussed in country-specific meetings of the Council, said today’s meeting provided an important “comprehensive picture”. Voicing serious concern about the deteriorating security situation, he declared: “No doubt, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is at the epicentre of the security dynamics of the region.” The resurgence of negative armed forces in that country’s east was particularly alarming. Welcoming recent reforms in the governance structures of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, he called on all parties to remain committed to the implementation of the Nairobi Declaration as well as the 31 December 2016 Peace Agreement. Any efforts to put that Agreement aside would be damaging, he warned, adding that the support of regional countries, the African Union and the United Nations would be critical for a smooth transition in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the holding of peaceful elections. On Burundi, he welcomed progress made, but expressed concern about allegations of human rights violations. Pointing to a “veritable stalemate” on that issue, he expressed support for a special meeting to break the deadlock with a view to encouraging the parties to show flexibility and readiness for compromise.

WU HAITAO (China), noting that the countries of the region faced numerous challenges related to sustainable development and the threats posed by armed groups, stressed that international support was crucial. Nevertheless, both the international community and the countries themselves must respect each other’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and resolve differences through dialogue. Calling for the strengthening of security cooperation and the implementation of the Nairobi Declaration, as well as accelerated efforts to repatriate former combatants, he called for efforts to promote economic development in the region. The African Union, the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region and other regional structures – as well as international donors – must continue to support such efforts, he said, underscoring the need for Africa to “resolve African issues in an African way”.

INIGO LAMBERTINI (Italy), welcoming the revitalization of the Follow-Up Mechanism of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, said there nevertheless remained grounds for concern. The situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was critical, with the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo deciding to end its mediation efforts. President Joseph Kabila had appointed a new Prime Minister, who did not enjoy broad support, leading to protests. Stressing that the 31 December Agreement was the only path to peace, he said all parties must be guided by the needs of the people they had been elected to govern, and called on them to tackle the situation in the Kasai region in particular. Indeed, parties on the ground must “pull out all the stops” to investigate the violence in Kasai, which could constitute a crime against humanity. Adding that those responsible for the murders of two United Nations experts must be held accountable as soon as possible, he called for targeted efforts to address the re-emergence of March 23 Movement (M23) fighters, support for refugees, and the continuation of the inter-Burundian dialogue.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) outlined myriad challenges facing the region, the most prominent of which was armed groups posing hurdles for Governments and threatening civilians. The humanitarian situation in the Great Lakes region was concerning, with a growing number of refugees and displaced persons in need of aid. He underscored the importance of seeking nationally-owned sustainable solutions in partnership with regional and international actors. He called on regional States to commit to the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, stressing that hurdles facing the African initiative to eradicate the Lord’s Resistance Party (LRA) required ongoing and open dialogue. Growing security challenges underscored the responsibility of United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and the need to provide it with funds and resources. Noting the appointment of a Prime Minister, he stressed that all parties must implement the 31 December accord, underscoring the role of international and regional partners in that context. On Burundi, there was no alternative to a sustainable political solution in line with the East African Community, he said, underscoring the role of the sanctions committee on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and expressing condolences to the families of the United Nations experts.

EDUARD FESKO (Ukraine) expressed concern that, due to the lack of political will to comply with promises and obligations, priority provisions of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework had not been implemented, creating distrust and provoking tensions. All signatories to the Nairobi Declaration must speed their efforts and resolve the issue of M23 elements as soon as possible. Noting the forthcoming elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he said regional actors should give priority to eliminating the threat of the ADF and the FDLR. There was an urgent need to resolve the issue of SPLM-IO combatants in the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose authorities were also expected to address the activities of the Kamuina Nsapu gang in Kasai province that allegedly killed two members of the Group of Experts. Turning to the human rights situation in Burundi, he said the lack of serious efforts to investigate abuses and overcome a climate of impunity only encouraged perpetrators to commit new crimes. It was upsetting that the situation in that country was worsening while the implementation of key elements of Council resolution 2303 (2016) had stalled.

LUIS BERMASDEZ (Uruguay) noted that four years after the adoption of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, the signatories had made some progress in its implementation. Nevertheless, the region was riddled with a number of complex political, security and humanitarian challenges, he said, warning that “the achievements made thus far could be quickly undermined by the presence of non-State armed groups” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other countries. Warning that the activities of a newly emerged militia – known as the Kamuina Nsapu – in the country’s Kasai region were particularly barbaric, he said the resulting crackdown had nevertheless been violent and excessive, leaving civilians caught “between a rock and a hard place”. He expressed concern about the human rights and humanitarian situation in the region, particularly in South Sudan, as well as about the plight of millions of displaced persons whose most basic needs continued to go unmet. The Council must “keep a watchful eye” on the situation, in particular human rights violations, which could lead to conflict, he said.

DIDAR TEMENOV (Kazakhstan) expressed support for the “growing ownership” of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework signatory countries, stressing that the Governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi must show political will to resolve the challenges facing their countries. In Burundi, the Government must continue to engage the opposition in dialogue; meanwhile, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the presence of illegal armed groups remained a major challenge to peace and security. In that regard, he expressed hope that the recent re-prioritization in MONSUCO’s mandate would help address the critical situation on the ground.

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said more must be done to overcome obstacles to peace and security, and to come to terms with armed groups. Expressing deep concern about increasing violence and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he warned that political uncertainty and lack of progress in implementing the 31 December Political Agreement could exacerbate instability. A transitional Government, supported by all parties, must be formed to prepare for elections, with the active participation of women. Influential regional actors should coordinate to ensure coherent messages, with the Security Council providing support for – and aligning itself with – such efforts, he said. While the international community remained committed, it was up to countries in the region to find peaceful solutions, he emphasized.

RENA� ERNESTO FERNA�NDEZ REVOLLO (Bolivia) said arbitrary borders established by colonial Powers had caused many of the current conflicts in Africa. Noting that natural resources were being trafficked to fund armed groups, he pointed out that huge multinational businesses controlled diamonds and copper in an illicit trade that “drag conflicts on and on”. Added to the mix were inter-ethnic conflicts. Lack of security and violence continued to spread tension across the region, he said, expressing concern over the humanitarian situation. Some 6 million refugees and displaced persons remained extremely vulnerable. Despite those challenges, Bolivia welcomed the regional support for the Nairobi Agreement and the Great Lakes Regional Strategic Framework, he said, emphasizing that the focus must be on neutralizing armed groups and promoting the rights of women and young people.

PETER WILSON (United Kingdom) said the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo remained deeply troubling, and it was up to the Government and the opposition to deliver on the 31 December Political Agreement. “What we actually have seen is stalling,” he said, adding that “sadly, obstacles go beyond inertia”. The appointment of the Prime Minister only aggravated the already deteriorating security situation, he said, expressing concern about the potential for increasing violence. The resumption of talks between the Government and M23 was vital, as was implementation of the Nairobi Declaration, he said, adding that a regional solution would help to avoid exacerbating existing challenges. Turning to Burundi, he said a “climate of fear” had persisted in that country amid arbitrary arrests and daily killings. The Government cared only about clinging to power, he said, expressing concern over its refusal to engage with the international community.

MICHELE SISON (United States), Council President for April, spoke in her national capacity, recalling that the Council had recently voted to renew MONUSCO’s mandate – an important step towards setting the Democratic Republic of the Congo on a long-term path to peace and stability. Noting that she was disturbed by allegations of atrocities in that country, including reports of mass graves, she warned that the Government must “work with, and not act as an impediment to, MONUSCO” in investigating such reports. While citing improved relations between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, she nevertheless expressed concern about the presence of armed groups throughout the subregion, urging the Congolese Government and the M23 leadership, in particular, to implement the Nairobi Agreement. Calling on all States and parties to end their support for non-State armed groups, she said the Council must avoid losing sight of the situation in Burundi, where more pressure was needed on both sides to ensure that the political crisis did not become a continued source of instability.

IGNACE GATA MAVITA WA LUFUTA (Democratic Republic of the Congo) said the Secretary-General’s report underscored his Government’s efforts, alongside MONUSCO, to neutralize the various armed groups active in his country. The report also acknowledged the Government’s request that MONUSCO help with the rapid repatriation of SPLM and FDLR members still waiting to be returned to their homelands or to third countries. In the context of the Framework’s stipulations against harbouring or protecting anyone accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide, and those under sanctions, he said the Congolese Government had apprehended and extradited various high-ranking FDLR leaders to Rwanda. However, several international arrest warrants sent by the Government to other countries in the region had still not been executed and war criminals continued to roam freely, he said.

He went on to emphasize, in that regard, that neighbouring countries continued to harbour former M23 fighters. On the political situation, he recalled that President Kabila had nominated Bruno Tshibala as Prime Minister, and he was now working to put together a Government of National Unity. The Council should refrain involvement in the conflict with the opposition party known as the Rassemblement, the specificities of which it did not understand, he urged. He concluded by underlining that the 31 December Peace Agreement did not replace the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which governed dealings with the political opposition.

Source: United Nations

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