President Donald Trump has cut the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. to a historic low of 15,000 in the current fiscal year.
The figure includes 6,000 unused places from the previous financial year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Trump said in a statement distributed by the White House in the early hours of Wednesday.
The policy caps the number of refugees who can be admitted from Iraq at 4,000 and the number admitted from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras at 1,000.
The remaining 10,000 spots are for people who fear persecution for their religious beliefs or political activities or who are referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Programme.
The statement additionally specifies that “persons from certain high-risk areas of terrorist presence or control, including Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, shall not be admitted as refugees, except those refugees of special humanitarian concern.”
The U.S. State Department had announced the cut would happen earlier in the month, saying it was necessary to “prioritise the safety and well-being of Americans, especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.’’
The number is the lowest level since the introduction of the U.S. refugee programme in 1980. The previous limit for the last fiscal year was 18,000.
In 2016, then-President Barack Obama’s last full year in office, about 85,000 refugees were allowed into the US.
Trump lowered the limit in 2017, his first in office, and about 53,000 refugees were let in, according to a report issued last year by the Department of Homeland Security.
The populist president is trailing behind Democratic rival Joe Biden in the polls less than a week before the elections.
On the campaign trail, he continues to stoke nationalist sentiments in the hope of an outpouring of voters from blue collar, non-college educated white folks he has repeatedly referred to as the ‘silent majority’.