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July 10, 2003

Asylum News 17

Refugee Resettlement at Record Low

Take Action Now! The U.S. has resettled only 17,439 refugees this year. If the U.S. does not dramatically improve the pace of its refugee resettlement program, only 26,000 refugees will be admitted during this fiscal year – far below the U.S.’s authorized admission of 70,000 refugees and its pledge to bring at least 50,000 refugees to safety in the U.S. this year. Expressing concern for the plight of refugees, on April 9, 2003 members of the House of Representatives formed the “Bipartisan Congressional Refugee Caucus” “dedicated to affirming the United States’ leadership and commitment to protection, humanitarian needs and compassionate treatment to refugees and persons in refugee-like circumstances throughout the world.” A list of members who have joined the Caucus. World Refugee Day Celebrated in June June 20th marked World Refugee Day highlighting the plight of over 14 million refugees worldwide and focusing specifically on youth. In the United States, Angelina Jolie, the UNHCR’s Good Will ambassador, held a press conference with Senators Feinstein and Brownback to show support for the Unaccompanied Minors Protection Act of 2003. This Act seeks to ensure that unaccompanied immigrant children are treated humanely in federal custody and helps those who are entitled to relief obtain such relief. In celebration of World Refugee Day, Representatives Payne and Hyde read statements into the Congressional Record commending the governments of Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia for generously providing sanctuary to the largest refugee populations in Africa. At the same time that the U.S. was marking World Refugee Day, the United States resettlement program, which has annually resettled on average 70,000 to 80,000 refugees, is in dire straits. Background on Resettlement After September 11 the resettlement program came to a complete halt and did not resume until December 11, 2001. The program was stopped in order to conduct a security review. Since this three month hiatus, the US resettlement program has only admitted a trickle of refugees. In fiscal year 2002 President Bush authorized 70,000 refugee admissions but only 27,100 were admitted, the lowest number in more than twenty years. This year the number of refugees admitted has been equally disappointing, totaling only 17,439 currently. At this rate, at best 26,000 refugees will be admitted during fiscal year 2003. Tens of thousands of refugees will be left living in difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances. Not only has the drastic decline of the US resettlement program since September 11th had a devastating impact on thousands of refugees, but it has also greatly hindered the ability of refugee resettlement agencies to maintain their staff and infrastructure. As a result of low refugee admission numbers, the largest refugee resettlement organizations have told their national staffs to expect a 30% cut this year. See U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for Fiscal Year 2004 Officials at the US Department of State have continued to maintain that the US will admit 50,000 refugees before September 30, 2003, the end of the fiscal year. “We are working very hard to reach that number,” a State Department spokesperson told the Washington Post in May. See George Lardner, Jr., U.S. Welcomes Fewer Refugees; ’02 Admissions Had Ripple Effect in Post-9/11 World, Report Says, Washington Post, May 20, 2003. But, as the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR), has pointed out, the Department of State remained confident that it would admit 70,000 refugees last year until the week before the fiscal year ended, when in fact only 27,100 refugees were actually admitted. Departments of Homeland Security, State and Justice Should Prioritize and Devote Resources to Resettlement The U.S. refugee resettlement program is currently being hampered by significant delays in the conduct of U.S. government security checks and a lack of sufficient resources. These problems were detailed in a July 7 article which appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Leonard Glickman, Chairperson of Refugee Council USA and President/CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society noted "[o]ur country can't seem to get its program back on track. The first year after Sept. 11, everybody was willing to defer to the [Bush] administration. By the middle of the second year, people had had it. If you want to give the management of the program a grade, it's a D-minus." See Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Refugees on Hold and at Risk, L.A. Times, July 7, 2003. The Administration should take steps to ensure that adequate resources are devoted to refugee resettlement and that refugee security checks are handled on a priority basis. The Administration should also direct the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the Department of State to treat refugee resettlement as an important priority and to coordinate their work to ensure the timely resettlement of refugees. Take Action! Urge Your Congressperson to Join the Refugee Caucus The Bipartisan Congressional Refugee Caucus can be a powerful force for advocacy, but it will only be as strong as its membership. The Bipartisan Caucus has four co-chairs: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). The Caucus, through its advocacy and leadership will provide a vital voice for refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. Please write to your Representative urging him or her to (1) join the Bipartisan Refugee Caucus and (2) write to the President urging him to reverse the decline in refugee resettlement. If your Representative has already joined the Caucus, write him or her thanking them for their commitment to protecting refugees. Take Action Now! More information on Asylum in the U.S. Please forward this newsletter to friends and colleagues. If you are not subscribed, and would like to continue receiving Asylum Protection News, sign up here