- President Sets Refugee Resettlement
Ceiling at 70,000 for FY2002
- State Department Issues New Security Procedures
- No Word on When Refugees Will Begin to Arrive Again
Refugee resettlement in the United States is still stalled, but some obstacles have been removed.
President Signs Document Allowing Refugee Resettlement
Last Wednesday President Bush signed the Presidential Determination (PD), a document that sets the maximum number of refugees to be admitted in a given fiscal year. Bush fixed the ceiling for FY2002 at 70,000. That is the lowest number in more than a decade, and a 50 percent drop since 1992. And because of the long delay this fall, far fewer than 70,000 refugees will likely be resettled this year.
The low number is disappointing but it is good news that the PD was finally signed since no refugees could be resettled without it. Virtually none were resettled, in fact, during the two months in which the PD went unsigned. More than 22,000 who had already been approved to come to the United States found themselves stuck overseas in limbo instead. Warm thanks to all of you who wrote, faxed, or called the President, urging him to sign the PD.
New Security Procedures Issued
Another obstacle to resettling new refugees was an interagency security review of the resettlement program, ordered in the wake of the September 11 attacks. That review was completed as of last week, according to State Department officials. Government officials have not released any information on the security review's conclusions, except a cable that the State Department sent to U.S. embassies last Friday Nov. 23, informing them of new security procedures to be applied to refugees travelling to the United States. Some of the 'new' procedures were already in effect in certain areas.
Security procedures listed in the cable include the following:
State Department: Resettlement Might Resume Quickly, But No Guarantees
- All cases of refugees who had already been accepted, and who are relatives of people already in the United States, are to be returned to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for an "anti-fraud and security review." The great majority of the refugees who fall into the affected categories are Angolans, Burundians, Congolese, Sudanese and Sierra Leonians, according to the INS. It is unknown how long that review will take.
- Each refugee must be photographed, facing the camera and in profile, when he or she arrives for the interview that is part of a refugee application. This does not apply to those already accepted to come to the United States.
- Refugees must be compared with their photographs when they board flights on their way to the United States.
- Security checks already done for refugees accepted to come to the United States before September 11 must be repeated, if the checks were completed before November 1. According to an official at the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), the databases used for checking have been improved.
For several weeks, the State Department has already been asking embassies to begin repeating security checks that were done before November 1, so PRM officials are hoping that refugees may begin arriving in the United States within as little as two weeks. They have been careful to point out, however, that they do not know for sure.
In recent years refugee resettlement has been suspended between mid-December and the first week of January, to allow a holiday break. This year, resettlement agencies in the United States have asked the State Department not to follow this custom, to prevent further delay. It is not yet clear whether it will be observed.
When Will New Refugees Be Interviewed, Beyond Those Already Accepted?
About 22,000 refugees had already been approved to enter the United States, before the September 11 attacks. Since the attacks INS officers have stopped making "circuit rides," overseas trips to interview refugee applicants, and no longer conduct refugee interviews outside U.S. embassies or their equivalent. As a result, out of 16 worldwide cities where the INS was interviewing refugees before September 11, now there are only two: Vienna and Havana. As a result, no interviews are being conducted in countries or regions with some of the largest and most vulnerable refugee populations, such as Pakistan and Africa.
It is not known when the circuit rides will be resumed. Before that can happen, the INS leadership must decide to resume the trips, and, in addition, a sufficient number of INS officers must volunteer to travel.
Given the remaining obstacles, in other words, we are still far from bringing U.S. refugee resettlement back to what it has been in recent years. One resettlement expert said Tuesday that she would be surprised if more than 35,000 refugees make it to the United States during all of FY 2002.