Stories | May 24, 2024

Arlington, Va. – ECDC’s 27th Annual National Conference, titled Global Refugee Crises: Enhancing Protection and Durable Solutions, has been successfully concluded. The two-day conference, commenced on May 21 with an opening plenary featuring Jeremy Konyndyk, President of Refugees International, moderated by Nick Schifrin, PBS NewsHour Correspondent.

Konyndyk underscored the need for inclusive policies and the importance of welcoming refugees. He highlighted the stark contrast between economically less stable countries that receive large numbers of refugees and more advanced nations that often implement restrictive policies. Konyndyk cautioned against negative media portrayals that inaccurately frame refugee and migration issues as “existential threats.” He advocated for a balanced perspective that prioritizes protection over exclusion. Citing a Syracuse University study, he noted that 70% of Americans support welcoming refugees, and 90% have positive views towards refugees they are familiar with. Konyndyk urged participants to engage in more advocacy for refugees, promoting humane policies focused on protection.

Jeremy Konyndyk, President of Refugees International, and Nick Schifrin, PBS NewsHour Correspondent.

The second plenary session showcased key leaders in U.S. refugee resettlement policies and programs. The panel included Larry Bartlett, Director of the Office of Refugee Admissions at the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM); Brandon Prelogar, Chief of the International Refugee Affairs Division at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS); and Ken Tota, Deputy Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The session was moderated by Anam Gnaho, Director of Resettlement and Integration at ECDC.

 

Anam Gnaho, Larry Bartlett, Ken Tota and Brandon Prelogar

The speakers highlighted the accomplishments of their respective federal agencies over the past year and discussed the trajectory of refugee programs in the U.S. for Fiscal Year 2024 and beyond.

Larry Bartlett confirmed PRM’s commitment to reach the Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions, set at 125,000 for FY24. This year, over 59,000 refugees and 19,000 SIVs have been admitted to the U.S.  Over 6,000 of these refugees have arrived through the ECDC Reception & Placement (R&P) Program.

Brandon Prelogar outlined USCIS’s initiatives to streamline field interview processes, significantly reducing the timeframe to three months. Processes that were previously sequential are now conducted simultaneously, and staffing capacity has increased fourfold under the current administration. Prelogar also noted that “USCIS has gone fully paperless,” a milestone that enhances efficiency in determining refugee eligibility worldwide. USCIS has deployed officers to over 53 countries, playing a pivotal role in determining eligibility for refugee status. This increased efficiency and capacity allowed the agency to conduct over 88,000 field interviews in FY24 and approve 94,000 cases. Latin America has seen substantial growth, with over 27,000 individuals interviewed and the opening of a new Refugee Processing Center. Prelogar remarked, “These are untold numbers compared to what we’ve done historically.”

Ken Tota discussed ORR’s expanded capacity to provide long-term services for refugees, much of which was spurred by Operation Allies Welcome (OAW). This growth has enabled ORR to offer essential services to multiple populations. Under the current administration, ORR has doubled its staffing, strengthened accountability measures for unaccompanied minors, and provided services to humanitarian parole populations, including Ukrainians, Cubans, and Haitians.

ORR has also increased its focus on data collection as part of its advocacy efforts. This data has led to landmark research demonstrating the profound economic impact of refugees, showing a $123 billion contribution over the past 15 years. ORR continues to conduct an annual survey of 2,500 households, fulfilling an obligation under the Refugee Act of 1980. Mr. Tota explained that this increased focus on data helps to tell the true story, especially for policymakers: “It is really impressive to see how well refugees do within 5 years in the U.S.”

As leaders continue to address the refugee crises around the world, conference attendees also voiced the importance of federal partners in mobilizing resources and advocating for refugees in Africa – a region which has historically been a focus of both ECDC and Dr. Tsehaye Teferra, founder and president of ECDC.

The tremendous growth in refugee programs is demonstrated not only by numbers, but through the individual stories of millions who have fled from persecution to rebuild their lives in the U.S. The ECDC Annual National Conference underscores the collective achievements and ongoing efforts to support those seeking refuge and asylum. As Moderator Anam Gnaho remarked, these updates by federal partners provide “hope and encouragement in our work of saving lives and enhancing protection.”

The conference was attended by over 200 participants from around the U.S.

On the 2nd day, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (PRR) and State Refugee Offices gave perspectives on Domestic Refugee Programming.  The panel featured Anastasia Brown, Division Director of Refugee services at ORR, Seyoum Berhe, Virginia State Refugee Coordinator and Carl Rubenstein, Division Director of Refugee Assistance Office of Refugee Resettlement and Dipti Shah, Chief at the Center for Global Migration and Immigrant Health, Maryland Department of Health.

The two-day conference also featured several concurrent breakout sessions featuring various speakers and experts. (see conference program).

ECDC’s Annual National Conference is as a platform for refugees, advocates, refugee experts, federal, state, and local government officials, and community leaders to discuss the causes of global conflict and forced migration, refugee protection, third-country resettlement, and improving the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program, the two-day conference was attended by over 200 participants from across the nation.

 

Written by Lullit Paulos and Annie Quinn. Lullit Paulos is the Director of Communications & Knowledge Management at ECDC Annie Quinn is Senior Program Manager at ECDC/ACC-DC