Where America's Political Refugees Come From, in Two Charts

The news: China, Haiti and Colombia are the countries where the majority of refugees granted asylum in the U.S. came from in 2013. Ethiopia, Egypt and El Salvador round out the top six countries.

According to the Global Post's compilation of data from the UN Refugee Agency, Latin America, Africa and Asia dominate countries of origins for asylees.


Image Credit: The Global Post 

The background: In order to be granted asylum, refugees must demonstrate that they are "someone who is owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country," according to the UNHCR. In April, the Obama administration made it even more difficult for asylum seekers to prove that they face a "credible fear" in their home country.

Many of the countries with the highest number of refugees, according to the 2013 Human Rights Watch World Report, are fraught with human rights violations and frequent violence that threaten the lives of residents.

China, for example, has made little progress in recent years regarding human rights. On top of media and Internet censorship, the Chinese face "volatile livelihood issues, such as land seizures, forced evictions, abuses of power by corrupt cadres, discrimination and economic inequalities," according the HRW's World Report. Repressive policies and an expansion of power of security make life difficult for many Chinese citizens.

In Egypt, citizens face "police abuse and impunity, restrictions on freedom of expression, association and religion, and limits on the rights of women and workers," reports the HRW. For Haitians, a deadly cholera epidemic, corruption and female-targeted abuse stain the livelihoods of citizens.

The total number of refugees granted asylum in the U.S. in 2013 has yet been tallied, but 262,023 refugees were granted asylum in 2012. Based on previous data, the number for 2013 would be an estimated few thousand above or below this amount.

The takeaway: America is a country built on diversity. And adding to the nation's melting-pot demographic are the thousands of people who emigrate by way of asylum. That includes many asylum seekers who are caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and must go before a judge to demonstrate their claim of fear.

But recent actions in Washington, continue to stifle the asylum process. President Barack Obama's efforts on immigration reform have been repeatedly shot down by the Republican Party, which has a long-standing history of trying to limit the number of foreigners coming into the U.S. This is in spite of the humanitarian crisis occurring in the U.S. of an influx of refugee children crossing the border.

The U.S. certainly has a long road ahead in terms of immigration reform, but by granting hundreds of thousands asylums to refugees each year, America has a great opportunity to pave the way for humanitarian aid to improve worldwide. The U.S. is setting a good example by helping distraught people start a new life in the "land of the free."

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Jenna Kagel

Jenna Kagel covers global and national social injustices. She also focuses on political dysfunction, the intersection of money and policy, and the US criminal justice system.

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