WASHINGTON (AFP) - President Donald Trump's administration said late on Wednesday (Sept 30) the United States will admit a record low of no more than 15,000 refugees over the coming year despite surging global displacement, stepping up its hard line one month before elections.
The State Department announced the number just half an hour before the Oct 1 start of the 2021 fiscal year, narrowly meeting a deadline set by US law following criticism by lawmakers.
The 15,000 figure - the maximum who can be admitted over the next 12 months barring a change in administration - is a further cut from 18,000 last year and down dramatically from more than 100,000 under previous president Barack Obama.
Mr Trump, who has campaigned on fierce denunciations of immigration, already suspended refugee admissions entirely for several months this year, citing the Covid-19 pandemic.
Explaining the new curbs, the State Department said the US wanted to help displaced people "as close to their homes as possible" until they can return home.
"By focusing on ending the conflicts that drive displacement in the first place, and by providing overseas humanitarian assistance to protect and assist displaced people, we can prevent the destabilising effects of such displacement on affected countries and their neighbours," a statement said.
The State Department pointed to its emphasis on "diplomatic solutions" on Venezuela, where the US has been trying unsuccessfully to topple leftist leader Nicolas Maduro.
More than five million people have fled Venezuela's crumbling economy. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced appreciation to hosts Colombia and Brazil on a regional tour visit last week, where he met Venezuelan migrants.
Refugee advocates had pleaded with the Trump administration to raise admissions in the face of global conflicts and fresh instability due to the pandemic.
Nearly 80 million people around the world are displaced, double the number a decade ago, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
Mr Trump's Democratic rival in Nov 3 elections, Mr Joe Biden, has pledged to raise the cap to 125,000, saying that welcoming the persecuted is in line with US values.
The Trump campaign has run advertisements highlighting Mr Biden's stance on refugees, saying he is "weak" and would bring in people from "dangerous" places.