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November 14, 2001

Asylum News 2

Refugee Resettlement in the United States Blocked, Stranding 22,000 Refugees

Only the President's Signature is Needed to Lift the Moratorium The U.S. government has essentially stopped the resettlement of refugees in this country since the September 11 attacks. That has stranded more than 20,000 refugees who had already been screened and accepted to come to the United States. Many had been given a long-awaited travel date and even tickets that were cancelled at the last minute. Many refugees are trapped in homeless limbo after giving up their old living quarters, unable to come to new homes or to join people who await them. In Clarkston, Georgia, a 7-year-old Afghan boy with a rare blood disease was expecting the arrival of his 20-year-old sister, apparently the only perfect bone marrow match in his family. His sister has been approved to come to the United States as a refugee but there is no news on when she may be able to travel, said Clare Richie, regional director for the Atlanta office of the International Rescue Committee. In Moline, Illinois, an Afghan mother and her family of five children were warmly awaited in September, but they are now "somewhere in Pakistan," said Ann Grove, director of the World Relief office in Moline. Grove, her colleagues and the volunteers who were to help settle the refugees are worried and disheartened. They are unable to get more information about the Afghan family of six, or about two other families they were expecting. Items from the families' dismantled homes-to-have-been sit in Grove's office now - including food and the headboard of a double bed. Grove and her colleagues have particular reason to be worried. The International Rescue Committee has reported that other refugees who had expected to come to the United States, now stranded in Pakistan, are living in fear for their lives because of strong anti-American sentiment in parts of that country. Who Are the Stranded Refugees? Such refugees are, in most cases, displaced people who have lived for years in refugee camps. Before they can be accepted for resettlement, overseas refugees are interviewed and screened by officials of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Many refugees wait years for an interview, while living in a refugee camp. The long and arduous road to refugee resettlement is not an easy option for those seeking to harm U.S. citizens. Ironically, now that Americans are concerned that some non-citizens entering the United States may pose a threat, we are excluding only the group that has been screened. Among the 20,000 refugees who have already been approved to travel are many religious minorities, and women and children at risk. In many cases, as in parts of Pakistan, the fact that refugees have been approved to travel to the United States exposes them to greater danger. Why Are The Refugees Stranded? There are two reasons for the virtual moratorium, as reported in an excellent front-page article in the New York Times of October 29: security concerns, and the fact that the U.S. government has so far neglected to set a new annual ceiling for the number of refugees to be accepted. The document that sets this number, called the Presidential Determination or PD, is usually signed at the beginning of each fiscal year. Until it is signed, almost no new refugees may be admitted. This year, the process has also included a "security review" of the resettlement program, by an interagency task force including the Department of Justice and Department of State, according to the U.S. Committee for Refugees. The Committee reports that although the Bush Administration has released very little information about the review, it is believed that the review will lead to more detailed background checks of refugee applicants, and "longer pre- and post-arrival processing times in general." Administration officials said this week that the review has been completed, so it is no longer an obstacle to lifting the moratorium. The unsigned PD, as written, would cut the figure down to 70,000 - the lowest resettlement ceiling in more than a decade. That number would be nearly a 50 percent drop in approved numbers since 1992. And because of the two months in which there has been almost no resettlement, and in which INS officers have interviewed very few new applicants, far fewer than 70,000 refugees are likely to be resettled this year - even if the PD were signed today. Please contact the White House and ask the President to lift the moratorium immediately, by signing the Presidential Determination. Call (202-456-1111) or fax (202-456-2461).