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White House says Trump gutted key refugee programs

IDLIB, SYRIA - DECEMBER 29: Syrian women fix tents damaged due to winter conditions with needle and thread to strengthen them against cold and rain at a refugee camp in Idlib, Syria on December 29, 2020. ( Muhammed Abdullah - Anadolu Agency )
Syrian women fix tents damaged due to winter conditions with needle and thread to strengthen them against cold and rain at a refugee camp in Idlib, Syria on December 29, 2020 [Muhammed Abdullah - Anadolu Agency]

The White House sought to defend on Monday a since-backtracked decision to maintain Trump-era refugee admission levels, citing a hollowing-out of key governmental agencies, Anadolu Agency reported.

That included ex-President Donald Trump's gutting of the asylum processing division at the State Department, and culling the Office of Refugee Resettlement's (ORR) "personnel, staffing and financial and funding needs," spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

The ORR has since run out of funding, and while Psaki said the administration is not currently considering a new funding request for the office it is looking to shift funding previously allocated by Congress to fund its operations.

"We have every intention to increase the cap and make an announcement of that by May 15 at the latest, and I expect it will be sooner than that," said Psaki.

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US President Joe Biden came under searing criticism from key Democratic allies on Friday after the White House announced it would maintain the historically-low refugee admission cap of 15,000 established by his predecessor after committing to raising it to 62,500 by the end of the 2021 fiscal year.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, herself a refugee, was among the chorus of opposition, calling the decision "disgraceful."

"It goes directly against our values and risks the lives of little boys and girls huddled in refugee camps around the world," she said in a statement. "I know, because I was one."

Amid mounting opposition, the White House changed course, announcing Biden would increase the refugee cap by May 15.

Trump worked year after year to draw down the number of refugees allowed into the US annually after he came to office in 2017 on a pledge to curtail migration to the US. The former president sharply curtailed refugee admissions from 110,000 when he assumed office to a maximum of 15,000 in his final year, an all-time low.

Psaki said Biden "remains committed to pursuing the aspirational goal of reaching 125,000 refugees by the end of the next fiscal year," which ends in September 2022.

READ: 101-year-old London hero sets global challenge to raise money for refugees

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