FY 2004 Refugee Admissions ProgramKelly Ryan, Deputy Assistant Secretary
Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration
Remarks at a public outreach event at the Refugee Processing Center
July 31, 2003
PRM Deputy Assistant Secretary Kelly Ryan hosted a public outreach event on July 31, 2003 at the Refugee Processing Center in Rosslyn, VA. At this meeting, representatives of resettlement agencies and refugees voiced their proposals for
PRM Deputy Assistant Secretary Kelly Ryan hosted a public outreach event on July 31, 2003 at the Refugee Processing Center in Rosslyn, VA. At this meeting, representatives of resettlement agencies and refugees voiced their proposals forfuture vulnerable group designations.
MS. RYAN: Well, let me start by introducing myself. My name is Kelly Ryan. I am a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration at the State Department and I take full blame if this doesn't work or if this process is not one that meets everyone's expectations. But the idea behind this, as evidenced in the Federal Register Notice, is to inform the public that we were very interested in getting the views of the public on the appropriate size and scope of the fiscal year 2004 Refugee Admissions Program, and I just wanted to say a few things before we get to your talking.
The purpose behind the meeting is really to hear from you. It's not to have a dialogue or a debate or an exchange of ideas about what is good or bad, or what needs to be improved and what's working great. It's, in fact, to get everything that you would like to say, in a very compressed time, into our record and to our understanding of what's going on.
You may supplement your comments with something in writing if you choose to. If you do that, I would urge you to do this as quickly as possible because we are beginning the consultation process with both you, and soon, hopefully, in the coming months, with Congress as required by the statute. So it is absolutely imperative, if you have other comments, that you get them to us as quickly as possible, and I can promise you that we will review them and think very hard about them. And to the extent that we can, and to the extent that they are consistent with administration policy, we will try to adopt them.
So that is the goal of the meeting today and the consultation process, generally; so that we have a process that is responsive to you as members of the public and its advocates, but also that works in keeping with the administration goals.
One other comment I wanted to make is that we do periodically have meetings with two different umbrella organizations: Interaction, on the humanitarian assistance side, and Refugee Council USA. This is not to suggest that those processes don't work well or that we are doing away with them. This is, in fact, to make sure that we have expanded access to those who aren't a part of either of those two processes. I just want to be abundantly clear -- there haven't been any questions on that -- but in case there were lingering ideas or doubts about that, I wanted to be abundantly clear.
Now let me, if I could, describe to you the process that we envision for the afternoon. We have gotten from those who have called in or e-mailed us a list of 24 persons who represent different interests or entities who wish to speak this afternoon.
Now, in order to get everybody's comments in and have people walk up and down, we are actually going to try to be very strict about limiting your comments to three minutes. We will give you a one-minute warning just like in moot court or in other advocacy situations, and we would ask you to come and sit next to me, if you are comfortable with that, and to speak into the microphone so that we can keep a record of this so that we donít have everybody frantically writing something down or we miss a point that is being made.
And I did absolutely want to inform you that we are recording it for the purposes of making sure that we have caught all your ideas. If someone has a problem with that, I would need to know ahead of time because we would like to keep an entire record, and I do plan on informing Assistant Secretary Dewey of both the nature of specific questions or comments or entreaties, and also the nature of this conference so he will be fully informed, as will Secretary Ridge, I assume, with DHS, who will be told.
I had one other request or comment. If I could ask, if you have cell phones -- and I'm doing this too -- could you please turn them off so that it's not disruptive? And with that, I'm going to ask our first speaker to come up. What I'll do is I'll announce their name and their affiliation, if they have one, and ask them to come up and begin the process so again, thank you all very much for coming. I hope this is a useful opportunity for you.
I would like to hear, through Terri Ruche, comments about this, about the process, afterwards: if you didn't like it, if you liked it. I'd like to know either way because we may continue to do this if this proves to be useful to you all and to us. So thanks again, and our first speaker has a very long last name. It's Max Niedzwiecki, is that right? From the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center. Thank you.
MR. NIEDZWIECKI: Okay. Yes, I'm Max Niedzwiecki. Thank you for pronouncing my name correctly, and for this opportunity. It's a wonderful opportunity. I'd like to say a few words about the Montagnard Refugees and Asylum Seekers of Vietnam and Cambodia.
SEARAC, the organization I represent, is the Southeast Asia Resource and Action Center. We're the national organization representing Americans from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam who now number approximately two million.
Most Southeast Asian Americans are either refugees or the children of refugees and contribute immensely to the economic and cultural wealth of the United States. As one example, the U.S. Census Bureau has found that in 1997, Vietnamese-American-owned businesses, alone, accounted for nearly $10 billion in sales and receipts.
Montagnards are people of diverse ethnic and linguistic backgrounds with a long history of settlement in the central highlands of Vietnam. As such, they are culturally and linguistically distinct from the majority of Vietnamese. During the Vietnam War, they were well known for their partnership with American military forces and like the Hmong of Laos, they consequently experience heavy casualties and continuing persecution in their own country.
Montagnards are also persecuted for their practice of Christianity and have a long history of land disputes with the Vietnamese Government. They have been unable, in Vietnam, to simply farm and practice their religion in peace, which is really their main objective. In fiscal years 2002 and 2003, over 900 Montagnards who sought refuge in UNHCR camps in Cambodia were resettled in North Carolina. Since that time, the Government of Cambodia has stated it will allow no further Montagnard Asylum Seekers in its territory, and all UNHCR camps remain closed.
No international organizations have had access to the Vietnamese central highlands in recent months, but reports of continuing and even intensified persecution have reached advocates in the U.S.
Many of the Montagnards who are settled in North Carolina have wives and children in Vietnam who could be eligible for U.S. resettlement, but lack required documentation for BCIS's I-730 petition. For example, the Vietnamese Ministry of the Interior sometimes will not make necessary documentation available, and some of the marriages have not been formally recognized by the state. SEARAC's first recommendation is that these family members be given access to the U.S. Resettlement Program either as P-2s or through a P-3 designation.
Even Montagnard refugees who have appropriate documentation for the I-730 petition are often unable to reach appropriate U.S. officials who now have no regular presence in the central highlands.
SEARAC's second recommendation is that the U.S. Consulate General's Refugee Resettlement Unit should have a presence at least every other month in the central highlands and that the U.S. visits should be supported by translation in the appropriate tribal dialects; and that the U.S. Government should negotiate with the Government of Vietnam to ensure that Asylum Seekers not be subject to additional persecution.
MS. RYAN: Thank you.
MR. NIEDZWIECKI: SEARAC's third recommendation is that the U.S. Government should encourage the Government of Cambodia to admit Montagnard Asylum Seekers within its borders and allow UNHCR appropriate access to them.
SEARAC would be interested in partnering with the U.S. Government and other interested parties to protect the human rights of Montagnards for resettlement and implementation of other durable strategies. And thank you very much for your attention.
MS. RYAN: Our next speaker is Leonard Glickman.
MR. GLICKMAN: Good afternoon everybody, Kelly, Colleagues in PRM, Volags. I want to thank PRM for convening this public meeting. My name is Leonard Glickman. I am President and CEO of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and I am the current chair of Refugee Council USA, a coalition of 19 refugee and human rights organizations.
I'm very pleased to be here today to present officially RCUSA's consultation document for the fiscal year 2004 Refugee Program. This document provides a very thorough analysis of the needs for resettlement and other forms of protection for refugees across the globe. It offers concrete suggestions of groups of refugees that the U.S. should consider for admission. Additionally, the document discusses various possible avenues of reform for the USRP that should facilitate the expansion of processing very diverse refugee populations in need.
Later in this meeting, other RCUSA members will speak on specific issues in refugee populations highlighted in our report. Before continuing, I do want to take this opportunity to express appreciation for the commitment and efforts that Deputy Assistant Secretary Kelly Ryan and others at PRM have made to undertake comprehensive reform of the U.S. Refugee Program. Refugee Council USA looks forward to working cooperatively to implement these reforms and to strengthen our mutual priority of saving refugees.
USRP serves our country's humanitarian and foreign policy interests by offering safety and security to those who've been subjected to persecution, including victims of rape, torture and other forms of violence. Currently there are over 13 million refugees worldwide. While third-country resettlement is the best option for a small percentage of the world's refugees, it remains the only lifesaving, durable solution for many refugees.
As a nation of immigrants, providing safe haven to the world's most vulnerable individuals is at the very core of our values. Indeed, the U.S. has been an historic leader of the international effort to protect refugees. In the late '70s, the U.S. resettled over 200,000 refugees a year. As recently as 1992, the U.S. target for refugee resettlement was 142,000.
As advocates for refugees, we are extremely concerned about the current state of the U.S. Refugee Program. We are disturbed by the decline in the overall target for admissions that has taken place since the early 1990s. However, most significantly, we are troubled by the exceedingly low admissions that occurred in FY02 when just over 27,000 refugees were resettled in the U.S. In fiscal year 2003, the total may even be lower.
This has been explained, in part, due to security issues. I have been asked, and would like to cite a very recent -- this month's -- report by the Lexington Institute, which coincidently, is here on Wilson Boulevard, that covered the current state of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and specifically on the issues of security. But I ask only that you would include the entire Lexington Institute report as part of my remarks. They write:
"Refugees screened heavily by U.S. officials and international agencies before consideration for admission to the U.S. pose a negligible security risk. And that risk is more than manageable with the screening procedures and other security measures that have been strengthened as part of the U.S. Homeland Security effort."
Oh, okay. One-minute warning, so I have to speed up.
Since the target for each of the last two years was 70,000, the shortfall has been a tragedy for some of the world's most vulnerable people. I must stress that we at Refugee Council USA find these admissions levels to be totally unacceptable because we are painfully aware that each unused slot represents an individual life left to waste in a refugee camp or urban underground.
The Jewish tradition teaches that, to save one life, is to save the entire world; and to lose one life is to lose the world entirely. The human costs of failing to meet the admission goals are monumental and should not be allowed to continue in FY04 and beyond.
In closing, I would like, again, to thank you for holding this important public meeting and to urge that as you finalize the Department's plan for the FY04 Refugee Admissions Program, you'd give strong consideration with respect to the Refugee Council USA agencies and other friends and supporters of the USRP.
It is crucial that we work together to repair the program, setting higher targets for admissions and ensuring that each slot allocated is used so that we may save as many lives as possible and honor America's historic role as a land of refuge. Thank you.
MS. YOUNG: Thank you. I am Wendy Young from the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children. I also act as vice chair of Refugee Council USA, and I would also like to thank PRM for this opportunity to share our views on some of the critical challenges facing the U.S. Refugee Resettlement system.
To begin, I would like to emphasize that resettlement must not be viewed as just another immigration program. It is, instead, a critical component of the international refugee protection regime. Refugees do not migrate by choice, but are forced from their homes by armed conflict and human rights abuses. They have only three choices: voluntary return to their home countries, local integration in countries of first asylum or resettlement to a third country.
For many refugees, return or local integration are not viable options. Resettlement, therefore, is an important safety net for some of the world's most vulnerable refugees as well as an important signal to the world community that the United States will continue to act as a leader in the protection of displaced peoples.
I would like to urge PRM to pay particular heed to the urgent need to offer resettlement opportunities to poor populations who are often in desperate need of protection: women at risk, unaccompanied and separated children, long-stayers and Haitians. Eighty percent of the world's refugees are women and children. Women at risk are women who have protection problems and find themselves without the support of traditional protection mechanisms. For example, they are women who have been raped, subjected to sexual violence, or are at risk of trafficking. While they are identified as a category for P-1 consideration under our resettlement system, in fact, the U.S. has not formally embraced and implemented a program to adequately address the resettlement of women who suffer such problems.
The widely publicized problem of sexual exploitation in West Africa, the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war in such places as Burma, and the ongoing protection problems confronting Afghan women underscore the need for the United States to more systematically address the protection needs of women.
The same is true of separated children. The critical development needs of children are often sacrificed as children are forced to languish for years in camps and other refugee settings. It is critical that children for whom it is found to be in their best interests to be relocated to the United States be identified, expeditiously processed, and offered a new chance in life.
A recent study looking at the resettlement experience of the Sudanese youth confirmed that children, in fact, not only may benefit from resettlement, but often also flourish as they begin their lives anew in the United States.
The United States should also move quickly to identify large groups of refugees who have suffered years of displacement in camps or other settings with no hope of return to their home countries. These so-called long-stayers are often living in precarious circumstances -- unwelcome in their host country, but unable to return home. The United States should adopt mechanisms for group referrals of such refugees. Such an effort is not only humanitarian, it would also serve to quickly utilize refugee slots that are currently going unused.
Finally, I wish to flag the critical protection needs of Haitian refugees. Currently, all doors to both asylum and resettlement are closed to Haitians, even while the political situation in Haiti continues to spiral downward and political violence to escalate. Haitians who are identified as refugees should be offered the opportunity to resettle in the United States both through regional and in-country processing. Our role as a friend to refugees should not only extend to distant lands, but also to our neighbors. Thank you.
JOHN MARTIN: I would like to give some perspective to this discussion. The idea is to collect points of view from the American public, and I think that we can arguably speak for the American public, certainly for our 70,000 members, certainly on the basis of public opinion polls with regard to public attitudes.
The points I'm going to make are few. First of all, you have to remember that the sponsors of refugees become the American taxpayer. That gives the government a certain responsibility in deciding its selection criteria as to who to bring into this country. Unlike regular immigrants who are expected to be self-supporting in the United States, the refugee who comes into the country is dependent upon the government, at least initially, in the United States.
Secondly, with regard to the drop-off of the number of refugees coming into the country, I think it is disingenuous not to recognize that much of this drop-off over the last several years has been because of the cessation of refugee pools of people, particularly coming from Southeast Asia following the Vietnam War, from the -- from Europe, following the ending of the Iron Curtain, and the effects of the Lautenberg Amendment not applying in the same way that it had previously, so much of this drop-off has been a natural decrease because the pools of refugees have diminished.
Third, the intake of refugees increasingly has been people who do not meet the definition of refugee by the United Nations' standards. By this I refer to Cubans being taken into the United States. By this I refer to Chinese and the one-child family planning policies. With regard to Lautenberg Admission, which is proof admission rather than individual persecution criteria. And I think that what we would urge is that the State Department take the initiative to try to bring the Refugee Admissions Policy back more closely in line with the United Nations' definition of who is and who is not a refugee.
Lastly, I would simply mention that the asylum intake, as well, has become expanded by an expansive definition of who may qualify and who is considered to be a persecuted person. And I think that this also ought to be with that. Thank you.
MR. CAREY: I apologize that Amtrak has compromised my plans today. I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to speak here today. Given the time limitations, I will focus my remarks on Liberian refugees, specifically those currently in the Ivory Coast.
Throughout the region, Liberian refugees face grave risks and their plight calls for a regional solution. But the option of waiting for such a solution to be developed is a luxury Liberian refugees do not have. Many have languished in camps and other insecure asylum settings in West Africa for more than a decade, awaiting a solution to their plight as a policy promoting their return to Liberia has been pursued by the UNHCR and the international community.
They still wait and are now even more at risk than the past and the condition of those in the Ivory Coast are some of the most dire. In the Ivory Coast, there have been frequent and credible reports of attacks on Liberian refugees. Upwards of 10,000 have been referred for resettlement consideration by the UNHCR. We applaud the State Department's effort to interview and move this population on an expedited basis and urge that going forward, adequate resources be committed to ensure that this effort moves forward both for this and other similarly situated and at-risk refugees.
In addition to the population currently recognized by the UNHCR estimated at 27,000, there is an additional 30,000 who were targeted in the recent civil war, were forced back into Liberia, and have now fled back into the Ivory Coast where they are at extreme risk of violence from the local population. We urge that consideration be given to a durable solution for this population, as well.
When looking to West Africa, resettlement is not the tool that provides protection to the individual refugee, but it is the lens -- or is not the only tool -- but is the lens through which the U.S. will be viewed in demonstrating its leadership in refugee protection to underworld powers and African nations as well.
Across West Africa, governments have become increasingly concerned about the potentially destabilizing effects of large influxes of new refugees. We urge that resettlement be viewed as a tool of burden-sharing so that African nations understand that they will not be left alone to shoulder the responsibility of hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees.
The plight of Liberians in West Africa stands as one stark example of the potential of the U.S. Resettlement Program to serve as a form of rescue, and hopefully support regional solutions. We can state with certainty that resettlement represents a potential life-saving form of assistance, and if not used and used quickly, more people will die.
I just wanted to briefly note, as well, in support of the Womenís Commission's statements, time does not allow us to address the broad spectrum of refugees in West Africa. But I would like to bring to the attention of the administration a group of particular need and special attention, unaccompanied minors. The IRC is one of the leading NGOs in conducting tracing efforts to reunite unaccompanied minors with their family members and conduct a durable solution-best interest determination for these children.
We need to strengthen these efforts and determine what are the best solutions for these children when tracing efforts have been unsuccessful. We encourage PRM to work closely with a coalition of experienced NGOs to assist and buttress UNHCR's efforts in this area.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.
MS. RYAN: Shep Lowman from Jesuit Refugee Services.
MR. LOWMAN: Thank you for the opportunity to speak today and address some of these issues. I think I'm going to try to confine myself to one very specific issue, and that's the use of family reunification as a processing priority in the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program.
And I'd offer these thoughts as coming partly from long-servers with refugees, NGOs and also from my service in the State Department where, from '76 to '81, I served as a manager of the Indochinese Refugee Programs.
As you know, family reunification has been an important processing priority in the U.S. Refugee Program since its inception. It's sometimes suggested, although it's unfamiliar with the program, that using family reunification as a priority somehow converts them into an immigration program. This is obviously not correct.
There are always higher categories to trump family reunification: a person who's in a particularly dangerous situation, a person who shouldn't have had contacts with the U.S., and they are persecuted for that and other categories that fit a particular caseload.
But the American people also care about family reunification, and they care quite a lot. And if the President authorizes more admissions than there are applicants from other categories, then family reunification is a very valid, useful processing priority to identify applicants of special interest to the United States. It goes without saying, of course, that any applicant, no matter what category, still must be found by a BCIS Officer to be qualified as a refugee under U.S. law.
It's true that in recent years some concern has been expressed about the appearance of fraud in this part of the U.S. program, especially fraudulent affidavits of relationship, which have shown up in the African program. These applicants have established a valid claim to refugee status in an interview with INS officers, but they had gained access to the interview by fraudulently claiming a family relationship in the United States that did not exist.
Now, affidavit of relationship fraud never became a serious problem in the Indochinese Program. There's a reason for that. When a refugee enters the U.S. Refugee Program, one of the first steps is for the caseworker to prepare a family tree based on the refugee's description of his own family. And the last thing that's in the mind of a refugee at that point in time is to create a false family tree to support some fraudulent claim, which he might want to make in the future.
In the Indochinese Program, when some years later another refugee applicant came along and claimed relationship with a refugee in the United States, and that claim was backed up by an affidavit of relationship, then the affidavit was checked against the family tree and the original file of the petitioning relative in the United States. If they didn't match --no sale.
Now, what happened in Africa? Apparently, at least in many cases, this crosscheck was not being completed. Why? I cannot say except to presume that there was a failure somewhere in the system. Once discovered, that failure was corrected. Affidavits of relationship are now routinely checked against the original family-tree filed by BCIS before the applicant ever sees a BCIS interviewing officer.
I understand that senior BCIS officers are comfortable with this system now. And given the current state of the refugee program, I would strongly recommend an aggressive expansion of the use of the P-3 Family Reunification Processing Priority. And to fail to do this because of problems that previously existed in the applicant program seems to me, actually, like, sort of like suing the patient for malpractice.
MS. RYAN: Thank you very much.
Barbara Day from LIRS.
MS. DAY: Thank you for this opportunity. I am Barbara Day, the Vice-President for Resettlement at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and today I am going to speak about the receptivity of the American people towards refugee resettlement.
Refugee resettlement in the United States is a longstanding public-private partnership. That includes the federal government, state and local governments, the business community, and the charitable network of religious, social service and ethnic organizations. This partnership has an excellent record of helping new refugees adapt and become self-sufficient. In 2002, local communities contributed almost $5 million in cash and in-kind resources to support just over 3,000 refugees through the LIRS Matching Grant Program alone.
As refugees establish new lives, they, too, make immeasurable contributions to our communities by building businesses, filling and creating jobs, revitalizing neighborhoods, fueling the economy, building the tax base and enriching the culture. I'm going to give a few examples of community support and the contributions that refugees made.
Downtown Utica, New York, was dying. Businesses and residences have fled to the suburbs leaving vacant, boarded-up buildings and a shrinking tax base. The mayor, the business community, and the local resettlement agencies devised a plan to resettle refugees in the empty inner city.
Buildings were refurbished. Jobs were created. Volunteers gathered furniture, clothing and food; and refugees began living in Utica. Today, downtown Utica is thriving because of the faith and trust city leaders placed in the "can-do" attitude and hard work of newly arriving refugees.
Last year, as was already mentioned, North Carolinians prepared a warm welcome for 700 Montagnard refugees, many of whose relatives had fought side by side with American soldiers during the Vietnam War. "I knew about the Montagnards from being in Vietnam myself," said Mr. Williams, who served with the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division from 1970-71. You cannot cross paths with them and not be caught up in their story.
When the Bosnians were resettled in 1999, a group of butchers ended up together in New York. When an employer of a meatpacking plant in Waterloo, Iowa, heard about the Bosnians, he aggressively recruited them to work in his Iowa plant, and the community and Lutheran social services quickly mobilized to support their relocation. Now more than 2,000 Bosnians call Waterloo home.
A planning official in Wisconsin said that without the refugee and immigrant population, Wisconsin would, "fall behind economically and politically." To stress the importance of newcomers in Wisconsin he added, "They are our future."
"We had been discussing that we would like to sponsor an Afghan family," said the sponsorship coordinator for the 700-member Rivercliff Lutheran Church in Georgia, "but we only had three days' notice that the family was coming. We decided, although we weren't quite ready, that we would be committed to them."
The church set up a furnished apartment, provided clothing for the four younger children, and welcomed them with open arms. They have worked to find employment, teach her English, provide medical assistance, and offer companionship to her children. The children now attend elementary school and *Mortaza Gapuristan (ph) plays spring baseball. Rivercliff is now committed to helping *Gapuri (ph) with her husband -- resettle her husband.
"Education is my mother and father," explains a tall, lanky Sudanese youth of about 18 whose smile lights up the world -- or at least Fargo, North Dakota, where he now lives. Foster families and communities across the country are befriending and nurturing some 5,000 unaccompanied Sudanese refugee youth, who, in turn, will become the future of America.
"I'll take every Sudanese lost boy and girl you have," said the high school principal. They greet me every day with, "Good morning, sir." And they inquire about my health. These young people are so very eager to learn. I wish I had an entire school filled with such optimistic, polite, hard-working students."
As we speak, communities around the country are collecting resources to welcome a group of extremely vulnerable refugees: the Somali Bantu. Through the public-private partnership of the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program, Americans in rural communities, small towns and big cities across the country are given the opportunity to welcome the newcomer, and in so doing, they rekindle the American dream for us all: the dream to be free; the dream to be safe; the dream to educate our children; to practice faith without persecution; and the dream of peace.
MS. RYAN: Ken Bacon from Refugees International.
MR. BACON: Thank you, Kelly, and thank you for holding this hearing. My name is Ken Bacon and I'm testifying on behalf of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Jesuit Refugee Service USA, the Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights and Refugees International, the organization of which I'm President.
These groups have two things in common. First, we are not involved with the operations of the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program. Second, we are deeply troubled by the sharp decline in refugee resettlements. Resettlement makes a crucial contribution to refugee protection. It advances basic American values because it assists people who face persecution for race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group for political opinion. Indeed, refugees admitted to the United States often have been persecuted for their promotion of civil liberties and values such as freedom of speech, which are central in the United States.
On World Refugee Day, President Bush said that he was proud that the United States of America is the world's leader in accepting refugees for resettlement. And he reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to protect and assist refugees, promote their right to seek asylum, and promote opportunities for their resettlement as needed. In both fiscal years 2002 and 2003, the President authorized the resettlement of 70,000 refugees.
By this standard, President Bush must be deeply disappointed in the performance of his government. Refugee resettlements fell to a 25-year low in the last fiscal year and could be equally low this year. Last year's sharp decline, though unfortunate and unfair to many refugees who had been cleared for resettlement, must be understood in the context of September 11th. But to miss the 70,000 target so widely this year as well is inexplicable and must be corrected.
We are aware that many are working to fix the program, but they must work with harder -- harder and with greater imagination. And above all, the system must respond with greater flexibility. This is not just a task for the Refugee Bureau in the State Department. The regional bureaus and upper management of the Department must be involved, as must senior officials of the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Council.
As you begin the process of setting the admission goal for fiscal year 2004, we ask you to consider the following recommendations:
First, don't lower your goals: There are 13 million refugees and asylum seekers in the world today, and large numbers of them are fleeing oppressive regimes in places like Burma and North Korea, or religious and ethnic and politically generated violence in Colombia, Sudan or Burundi. In the face of such problems, 70,000 remains a reasonable resettlement goal.
Second, improved performance: The resettlement pipeline is narrowing. To open it up will require adjustments at the beginning, the middle and the end, bringing more refugees into the resettlement process, handling their applications more quickly, and relocating them promptly to the U.S. Several actions could improve performance:
Use the skills of the staff of American NGOs. This partnership has often been central to success in the refugee program in the past. It is especially important now to utilize NGOs working in coordination with UNHCR. Increase UN High Commissioner for Refugee's support in resettlement screening and referrals without making UNHCR a gatekeeper for the U.S. program. Greatly increase access to the program by the use of much more inclusive processing priorities.
This would help -- this would include greater use of group designation in speeding up processing for individual refugees, especially those who have suffered or are at the risk of suffering from human rights abuses in their country of asylum.
Send more officers abroad with greater flexibility to travel and to explore and develop populations to fill the pipeline, and speed up access to interviews. This may require additional resources to move security reviews and name checks in the system more quickly.
Third, expand family reunification. Shep Lowman touched on this earlier, and I won't give more details.
MS. RYAN: Sorry, that's four minutes.
MR. BACON: Fourth, review and expand categories such as used in processing priorities. But the current approach was designed during the Cold War and is not suited to the ethnic mentality, sectarian conflicts, and simmering civil wars that generate longstanding refugee situations today.
I'd just end by saying that refugee resettlement must not be seen as a bureaucratic burden. The President's authorization of 70,000 refugee admissions is a golden asset to be used to advance American national interest in humanitarian goals. It is a program that saves lives and a program that gives people hope. It's a program that sets an example for the rest of the world. Make that example a good one. Thank you.
MS. RYAN: Our next speaker is Mark Hetfield from the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom.
MR. HETFIELD: The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom is pleased to have this opportunity to comment on the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for fiscal year 2004.
The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, IRFA, established our commission as a federal agency, independent of the executive branch. The commission's primary mandate, based on a review of violations of freedom of religion or belief abroad, is to consider and recommend options for U.S. policies with respect to foreign countries engaging in or tolerating violations of religious freedom. In addition, IRFA imposes several requirements on the U.S. Refugee Program.
While one of the goals of American foreign policy, as articulated in IRFA, is to bring religious freedom to the persecuted, refugee resettlement allows the U.S. to bring the persecuted to religious freedom. Furthermore, by providing refuge to members of persecuted religious minorities, the Resettlement Program draws domestic and international attention to the human rights abuses that force refugees to flee, including severe violations of their right to freedom of religion or belief.
The Commission is interested in collaborating with the governmental, nongovernmental, and international partners of the U.S. Refugee Program. Commissioners and experts on staff are available to assist with training on country conditions, international human rights and refugee law, and the formulation and advocacy of policy to protect specific persecuted groups. We look forward to working with all of you. In the meantime, the Commission has some points and questions it would like to raise regarding the USRP.
First, the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 requires that the USRP develop and implement guidelines and standard operating procedures to ensure that genuine applicants for refugee status are not disadvantaged or denied protection due to hostile biases or faulty case preparation. The guidelines and procedures are a statutory requirement, yet it appears that after nearly five years, the Department of State and Legacy INS have neither published, nor implemented them. The Commission would be interested in working with the partners of the Refugee Program to ensure that not another year goes by without the fulfillment of this statutory requirement.
Regarding countries of particular concern, in May 2003, the Commission recommended 12 countries for designation as Countries of Particular Concern, or CPCs, for their systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom. Of asylees approved by the INS in 2002, 36 percent came from a recommended CPC. Among approved asylees were nationals of all 12 recommended CPCs. But in the U.S. Refugee Program, a much smaller percentage of approved refugees came from recommended Countries of Particular Concern, and not a single approved refugee came from three such countries.
The Commission would like to know whether the Refugee Program would be willing to take into account, when considering P-2, P-3, and P-4 designations, the CPC recommendations made by the Commission, as well as some of the other categorizations made by the State Department's own Office of Religious Freedom of Countries, where religious freedom is severely restrictive.
Third, consular officer training and referrals: Section 602 of IRFA requires that the Secretary of State provide sessions on refugee law and adjudications on religious persecution to each individual who seeks to become a U.S. Consular Officer. Consular officers, in adjudicating these applications, sometimes encounter applicants for temporary work or visitor visas who may also be fleeing religious persecution.
If a consular officer believes that the temporary visa applicant intends to apply for asylum, he will ordinarily deny the visa to the individual fleeing persecution because a non-immigrant has immigrant intent. Embassies, however, are permitted to refer such individuals to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. The Commission will be interested in understanding how the USRP has implemented the consular training provisions of IRFA and what the results have been of this.
I'll quickly run through the remaining recommendations. We would also like to recommend that the State Department consider a Priority-2, Priority-3 and Priority-4 designation for nationals outside of the People's Republic of Korea. We know that Russia and China are routinely returning North Koreans to North Korea where they face either imprisonment or death.
MR. HETFIELD: Wrapping up, (laughter) I've submitted this for the record so once again, the Commission would like to thank Kelly for the opportunity to present these questions and concerns and looks forward to receiving a response to these issues that I've raised here orally, as well as those I've raised in my written submission prior to the conclusion of the Refugee Admissions Consultation Process for FY 2004. Thank you.
MS.RYAN: The next person is Greg Wangerin of InterFaith Refugee and Immigration Ministries.
MR. WANGERIN: Thank you, Kelly.
MS. RYAN: You're welcome.
MR. WANGERIN: Good afternoon. I've traveled from Chicago to come before you as a representative of America's heartland. Dori Dinsmore and I are here to represent the USRP frontline, Chicago's VOLAG Council; and the Illinois Refugee Social Services Consortium sent us to speak on their behalf. This includes the local affiliates of eight national VOLAGs and many other offices.
Dr. Ed Silverman, State Refugee Coordinator, has sent us to represent him as well. We also represent the thousands of churches and houses of faith in Illinois who support refugees anxiously awaiting the arrival of so many persons still stuck in refugee camps to whom they're committed to co-sponsor.
We represent the rank and file of the American public across the heartland of this great nation who recognize along with President Bush, himself, the fact that ours is, "a country that has seen refugees contribute so much to our society." But much more important, Dori and I represent the refugees themselves. We stand here in place of Mr. (Inaudible), the Liberian refugee who could not get away from his job at the Chicago Board of Trade, to tell you of his utter frustration in waiting for his sick mother, whose case has been on hold for two years in Ghana.
We represent the numerous refugees already in the U.S. who await the day when they might welcome their family members hanging onto slim survival in squalid refugee camps all over the world. And in fact, those are the people whom Dori and I really, truly represent here today -- the thousands and thousands of refugees whom America is on the verge of leaving behind, who have fled terror in countries such as Burma, Colombia, Iran, Liberia, North Korea, the Sudan and more. These people, these people are the ones who will absorb and feel the greatest impact of the decisions that you are about to make in the coming days.
Our policies impact directly upon the human, day to day lives of simple folk who are literally hanging on for their dear lives. The protection of these children, women, elderly themselves -- the forgotten victims of terrorists -- is of paramount importance to, I think, most every one of us in this room here, today.
President Bush has said, "America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands for human dignity and the rule of law." The USA's incomparable leadership in past years to set the standards for refugee resettlement has truly helped prevent countless tragedies in the lives the at-risk refugees. We must continue to ensure that the President's non-negotiable demand for human dignity is available to the forgotten and voiceless refugees worldwide.
The American public are increasingly aware that their government has admitted far fewer refugees during the past two years than at any time during the past two decades. This distresses them. More and more churches --permanently. That's their deepest desire. They look to the U.S with for hope, however, because many cannot. When there is no hope, there is no life. Without hope, one gives up -- losing the will to go on, to trust, to live.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has said, and I quote, "We are a nation of refugees. The Bush Administration will not permit the attacks of 11 September to shake our nation's commitment to refugees. That commitment speaks to our most fundamental values: compassion, tolerance, humanity. We will continue to be the world's leader in refugee resettlement." Need I say more? Thank you very much for your kind attention.
MS. RYAN: Thank you. The next speaker is a refugee himself from Liberia, Hassan Bilaty
MR. BILATY: Good afternoon. My name is Hassan Bilaty. I'm a journalist, a Liberian journalist and a refugee myself. From the perspective of a refugee and international journalist, I make the following statements:
Officials of the U.S. Government here, Press, and Representatives of Nongovernmental Organizations, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I must, first of all, extend my thanks and appreciation to the U.S. Government and the people, most especially the U.S. State Department, for doing everything humanly possible to secure my release from prison in Liberia and facilitate my coming to the United States, and also my wife and son.
This is yet another demonstration of America's continuous fight for freedom, justice and deeper opportunity for all of mankind. I am very grateful and thankful. Had it not been that your government insisted and pressurized my government that I be released, I might have probably been killed in prison or permanently disabled as a result of the torture on the way.
I still have my family members in Liberia, some of who have been arrested by the government there. However, I consider myself fortunate because my case was considered a special one, a special one due to the international color with which it was painted.
But there are many others who are not as fortunate and whose sufferings remain unknown to the rest of the world. Some of those people do have American parents, and their parents and their relatives who are in America, you know, sleep under the blanket of freedom provided by the ideals for which America stands.
But because they remain in Liberia and other countries, and not been able to come to United States because of the stringent policy, because of the delay in the policy, they, themselves, remain trapped in a land of fire separated from their mothers, brothers, sisters, fathers, wives and husbands.
In reality, this means that there are Americans whose immediate family members still face injustice and persecution in a land far-removed from the freedom that is offered to the rest of the world by the United States.
But there is some hope for these people. This hope is the Resettlement Program, the Refugee Program. Over the years, the Resettlement Program has united thousands of American families, some of whom have immensely contributed to the growth and development of the United States.
It is my considered opinion and appeal, both as a journalist and a refugee, that this program be maintained and supported because it clearly shows the human face of the United States and the American people, and it further defines what America stands for. What America stands for is freedom, justice, respect for the fundamental rights of all human beings. And this is where the true, I mean the true greatness of the United States truly lies: to give hope to the hopeless, to liberate those who are enslaved, and bring happiness to the faces that have forgotten to smile.
If this program is stopped, there will be catastrophic consequences. Some American citizens will see their children and other loved ones recruited as rebel army soldiers -- as child soldiers. That is because those of them who came to the United States, and have qualified to because American citizens still have their relatives and are unable to be united with them. So it typically means there are American citizens whose relatives are still suffering the persecution against which the United States itself is fighting.
Prostitution of children, young girls, are also some of the consequences that the siblings of some refugees in the United States are faced with in refugee camps.
This is true of refugees who continue to languish in refugee camps without proper guidance because their parents or guardians are thousands of miles away from them. This makes this program extremely critical, and those waiting on refugee camps really need to be resettled by this program, and fast.
The Resettlement Program tells the rest of the world what America really stands for. Please maintain this program. This voice represents thousands of other voices and furthermore.
MS. RYAN: The next speaker is Janna Mason from the U.S. Committee for Refugees.
MS. MASON: It's always difficult to follow a refugee. What more can you want to say?
But I will say a few words on behalf of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and our parent organization, Immigration and Refugee Services of America. IRSA is a national, non-sectarian network of 36 partner agencies around the country. Those partner agencies work in communities that are extremely supportive of the Refugee Admissions Program and are very concerned by the current, low number of admissions.
USCR is concerned with refugee protection worldwide and published something called The World Refugee Survey. And I'm just going to say a few words very briefly about three refugee groups in the area that I cover at USCR, which is the Asia, Pacific and South Asia region. Those three groups are Bhutanese in Nepal, Vietnamese in the Philippines, and Burmese in Thailand.
First, very quickly, I just want to align myself with previous comments made about the Montagnards in Vietnam and the North Korean refugees in China. Both are groups that we're concerned with very, very much.
Regarding the Bhutanese in Nepal, this is a population of over 100,000 refugees in six camps in eastern Nepal. They've been there for 12 years now. Last year, after several years of negotiations, the Bhutanese and Nepalese Government embarked on a pilot project to identify appropriate candidates for repatriation in just one of the six camps.
The Verification Process, as it's known, unfortunately, was basically a sham. It has been identified that less than three percent of the refugees were appropriate candidates for return.
One of my colleagues at USCR is returning today to the U.S. from a site visit in Nepal. We issued a press statement about that site visit where we reaffirmed our strong support for repatriation to Nepal, and -- I mean to Bhutan, and called upon the Bhutanese Government to reverse the mistakes that had been in the verification process.
We emphasized, as was previously said, most refugees do want to go home. The Bhutanese want to go home, and we support their ability to do so. But current events have shown us that the Bhutanese Government has no real aim to bring home those refugees. Therefore, we promote the broader, durable solutions for these refugees, including resettlement if it's appropriate.
I met, this morning, with someone from the Center for Victims of Torture who provide services to women in those camps who've suffered rape. There was a major report about this last year. Those, for example, rape victims and other women at risk, could be among the appropriate candidates for resettlement whether or not return to Bhutan ever happens.
On the Vietnamese in the Philippines, we're aware that PRM is looking at this group. We're very supportive of that. We commend you for that. This is a group that's basically been in limbo since the end of the CPA, the Comprehensive Plan of Action for Vietnamese. We support a multilateral effort to resolve this situation, which PRM is proposing, which would include resettlement in other countries, as well as maybe some permanent residence in the Philippines if the Philippines is willing to do that. We're a little bit dubious. So we do want to let you know that, that we're very interested in this population and we urge you to initiate resettlement for those people among that population, particularly those who have relatives here.
On the Burmese in Thailand, there are well over 500,000 Burmese that are refugees outside their country. Over 300,000 of those are in Thailand. We know the U.S. continues to resettle small numbers of pro-democracy activists, and maybe now is looking at a number of Hmong. We would urge you to start looking at the camp populations, the ethnic minorities. They've been there for 15 to 20 years now. There's no hope of any change in Burma in the foreseeable future. This is a group that really needs durable solutions.
And my last comment, just because I think it needs to be said in response to the statements made earlier by the gentleman from FAIR, is that as my organization can document, the Vietnam war may be over, but there are no shortages of refugees in the world.
Refugees, as defined under the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Convention definition, as well as people defined under U.S. law, which includes the (inaudible), which included people fleeing the one-child policy in China, and it is U.S. law, after all, that (inaudible) U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Thank you.
MS. RYAN: The next speaker is Gideon Aronoff from HIAS.
MR. ARONOFF: Thank you. My name is Gideon Aronoff, and I'm the Washington representative of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. I'd like to thank you for allowing me to present my organization's views on President Bush's fiscal year 2004 Refugee Admissions Program.
HIAS is the international migration agency of the American Jewish community -- a community that has long been in the U.S. Refugee Program as a central component of our country's humanitarian and foreign policy. Our community deeply values the public-private partnership with the U.S. Government to provide protection and assistance to vulnerable refugees around the world, including the over 400,000 Jewish and non-Jewish refugees who, since the 1970s, have been integrated into American society by local Jewish communities.
And here, I'd like to associate myself with what Barbara Day said about the positive impact of refugees on the local communities. The Jewish community remains strongly supportive of a compassionate and generous admissions program that, while maintaining the secure nature of the U.S. Refugee Program, can reach out and offer safe-haven to a greater variety of refugees in need.
For my brief remark, I'd like to highlight three populations of refugees that we believe should receive continued, or in some cases, expanded access. More details on all of these populations can be found in the Refugee Council USA Admissions Recommendations document.
First, the Jewish community supports the continuation of the U.S. program to process religious minorities from the former Soviet Union. This program is an essential aspect of the United States' commitment to religious liberty and stands against the resilient anti-Semitism and other forms of persecution across this region. Several thousand Jews and Christians from the FSU should be assisted through this program in FY 2004.
HIAS also encourages the U.S. Government to make the Refugee Program available to Meskhetian Turks who have fled from Uzbekistan, and who, for more than a decade, have lived in the Krasnodar region of Russia without a reasonable chance for a durable solution in the FSU.
We strongly urge the creation of a Priority-2 category for this needy group and hope that the category will be defined in a manner that recognizes that few, if any, of the Meskhetians have been offered for resettlement in the Krasnodar region.
The second crucial group of refugees who should be given access to the U.S. Refugee Program are religious minorities from Iraq. As minorities, these refugees face a broad array of discrimination, harassment and persecution from the government of the Islamic republic.
Resettlement offers them the opportunity to realize their dreams of practicing their faith in freedom. We believe that at least 2,000 Bahai, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians from Iran will be in need of resettlement in United States in FY 2004 through the processing system based in Vienna, Austria. We encourage the Department to take all steps possible to ensure that this program continues to function effectively with the essential support of the Austrian Government.
Finally, we would like to express appreciation to the Department for beginning to address the crucial needs of Colombian refugees.
At present, we estimate that more than 325,000 Colombians live abroad in refugee-like situations. Additionally, approximately 2.5 million are internally displaced. With such large-scale displacement, the 88 Colombians admitted thus far in fiscal 2003, while a welcome start, do not respond to the magnitude of need.
We hope that the Department will significantly enhance and expand processing of Colombian refugees in FY 2004. Furthermore, we hope that the Department will support providing Temporary Protected Status for the Colombians living in the United States who have fled the generalized violence of the civil conflict, and are therefore largely beyond the scope of the U.S. Asylum system.
Thank you for considering the views of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society on the FY 2004 Refugee Program.
MS. RYAN: Our next speaker is Doua Thor from HND/SEARAC.
MS. THOR: My name is Doua Thor and I work for Hmong National Development. And I'm here representing Hmong National Development and the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center speaking on recommendations for Hmong refugees from Laos presently in Wat Thamkrabok, Thailand.
And I would like to take this opportunity to thank PRM and also their efforts to address this issue. I was a refugee born in Laos, and I came to United States with my family, fleeing persecution because my father was a Hmong soldier fighting for the United States. Never did I think that someday I would have the opportunity to advocate for support of Hmong refugees.
Refugees continue to contribute tremendously to this country. Minnesota has elected two Hmong former refugees to the State Legislatures. Senator Mee Moua and Representative Cy Thao. In addition, both Wisconsin and Minnesota Hmong communities have established Hmong Chamber of Commerce organizations representing Hmong-owned businesses, offering community programs, and providing expertise. It is a testament of the strength of the Refugee Resettlement Program that I am here, educated, civically engaged and proactive.
SEARAC and HND are both national non-profit refugee organizations managed primarily by and for Americans with heritage in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Encourage the governments of the United States and Thailand to implement humane and lasting solutions to the dilemma of long-standing Hmong refugees from Laos who are now in Thailand; principally, at Wat Thamkrabok, Solutions available to these refugees should include third-country resettlement in the United States.
Hmong support for the United States during the Vietnam War and resulting heavy casualties are well known. After the war, hundreds of thousands of Hmong fled Laos for refugee camps in Thailand. Thousands later left the camps, including Ban Vinai for fear of repatriation, and many found relative sanctuary in Wat Thamkrabok, a Buddist temple in central Thailand.
According to the recent New York Times article, approximately 15,000 Hmong refugees from Laos now live at the temple grounds. Others have since left the temple and now live in the margins of Thai society without access to Thai citizenship or the possibility of integration into that country.
Many inside the temple grounds, as well as outside of them, still possess documentation of refugee status they obtained in refugee camps. These refugees continue to exist in impoverished and vulnerable circumstances without access to Thai citizenship. They lack full rights, are often victims of exploitation, and remain there only under the temporary permission of the Thai Government.
Since the end of the Vietnam War in Laos in1975, these refugees have been trapped in a country that has repeatedly restated its unwillingness to fully integrate them. They urgently require a durable solution to their insecurity.
For many, resettlement in the United States would be the most -- would be the best option. For those who choose not to resettle, we aim to provide a solution with support towards attaining self-sufficiency in Thailand. Their situation is somewhat like that of remaining Hmong who are opposed to the Lao Government but remain within Lao borders inside Phonsavan.
This community has been a focus of world attention since the arrest and subsequent release of the Lao Government of two European journalists and one Hmong-American pastor.
Members of this community remain isolated and they have little understanding of the current world political situation. The relationship between this group and the government has just disintegrated so that resettlement is the only option for survival.
Historically, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program has offered resettlement as a means of protecting special groups such as the Hmong who were and continue to be persecuted because of their pro-American stance.
We recommend that this administration continue to demonstrate America's loyalty to its suffering allies by offering the option of voluntary resettlement. We would be pleased to provide you with more specific information on both of these issues and we stand ready to serve as a resource in your efforts to protect the human rights among the groups for Resettlement, and other means in South Asia.
MS. RYAN: Thank you. Our next speaker is Dori Dinsmore from World Relief.
MS. DINSMORE: Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today. As Kelly mentioned, my name is Dori Dinsmore and I am the Director of the World Relief Affiliate Office in Chicago and I am the current chair of the Illinois VOLAG Council.
Today, I have three points to share. First, the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program is a living embodiment of the administration's faith-based priorities. For many of us, our faith traditions lie behind our work, and we agree with and support these initiatives. However, churches and other faith-based and community organizations are being shut out of participating in work they believe is central to their faith: welcoming and caring for the stranger, the widow and the orphan among us.
In fiscal year 2001, my office alone trained 67 churches to provide support and services to newly arrived refugees. In this year to date, it's four. Those remaining churches and their time, energy and resources have been sidelined.
Second, public support for the refugee program has dropped, as measured by numerous positive local media coverage, including the Chicago Tribune and local other community and neighborhood papers, calls from people eager to volunteer, private dollars that are being contributed and calls from employers with jobs to fill. Each media story generates more local interest and communities are asking how events abroad impact refugees and ask who will be coming next to our towns.
This year, my office has over 250 volunteers, more than double the number of refugees we are expected to receive, and we have turned away many, many more. In an era of economic downturn, people and congregations continue to contribute resources to us because they believe in what we do -- turning persecuted strangers into neighbors.
Third and finally, communities throughout Illinois, from suburban Republican counties to urban, blue-collar Democrats, to Moline, Champaign-Urbana, and further downstate have a long and proud tradition of welcoming and absorbing refugees, which has only strengthened in recent years as more and more Americans grow to understand both the unique needs of refugees full protection and the unique gifts that they bring to us.
One particular neighborhood in Chicago changed from a dangerous stretch of vacant storefronts to a bustling and vibrant economic engine for the whole community, as first Indo-Chinese, then Ethiopian and now Bosnian refugees arrived, pooled their resources and opened businesses and restaurants. The lack of refugees is now having a negative impact on these communities with missed opportunities for development, reduction in the diversity which is now so critical to our communities, and straining resources as refugees here must send money to camps to provide for the needs of their relatives, and those relatives should be here contributing to our economy rather than draining our resources.
President Bush has called faith-based organizations "soldiers in the armies of compassion." We implore Department of State to lead us in the fight for refugees and in the fight to save the U.S. Refugee Program. We stand ready with you on the front lines.
MS. RYAN: Our next speaker is Anastasia Brown from the U.S. Catholic Bishops.
MS. BROWN: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to express some of the concerns of the U.S. Catholic Bishops regarding the U.S. Refugee Program. The Catholic Bishops are extremely concerned with the continued drop in the number of refugees admitted to the United States on a yearly admission basis.
This is unacceptable in a world where the known number of refugees is upwards of 13 million people. The bishops, who administer some 65 million Catholics in the U.S., have visited these refugees in many of their countries of asylum, and are distressed to find the few opportunities that exist to access resettlement.
This short statement cannot possibly summarize the Catholic Church's view that the protection of refugees is its mission, which it has carried out throughout the world well before the establishment of countries who are called upon today to shape refugee policy. The Church was founded by a refugee child who sought refuge in Africa, and our faith calls upon us to welcome the stranger among us. Because in the face of that stranger, we see that refugee of over 2,000 years ago.
We are not involved in this issue for any other reason than it is our mission. We are called to it in faith. Among the most vulnerable refugees are the unaccompanied and separated minors and child headed households. These children are the least able to advocate for themselves. They are susceptible to the exploitation and coercion. It is imperative that the determination of the best interests of the children take place for these children: tracing of family members, leading to family reunification, should be pursued wherever possible. And in those instances where tracing efforts are not expected to produce a successful outcome, durable solutions, including resettlement, should be pursued.
Several groups of concern are already known, many of whom have been languishing in refugee camps for many years, and these include: unaccompanied Sudanese minors remaining in Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda; Liberian and Sierra Leonean children in Guinea; Liberian children in Ghana and the Ivory Coast; Ethiopian children in Yemen; Afghan children left orphaned in Pakistan and other surrounding countries.
Any discussion of the family reunification priorities for the U.S. Refugee Program should also recognize the need to reunify these children with family members who are not parents or spouses.
With regard to Vietnam, we support the initiative to reopen categories of Vietnamese eligible for in-country processing. And since this is an aging population, we strongly recommend that their unmarried adult children also be considered eligible for processing to accompany and assist their parents.
We believe that reopening of the categories should also be extended to those who return from first asylum camps under the Resettlement Opportunities for Vietnamese Returnees Program. The deadline for registration in this program is extremely short and many persons of special interest to the U.S. did not get access to the program.
Cases of those former U.S. Government employees who were rejected prior to 1996 should be reviewed, and those cases, which were closed prior to interview for inability to produce documentation, should be allowed to establish their claim through testimony. For further details on these issues and many other categories we would refer you to the Refugee Council USA admissions document for the fiscal year 2004.
MS. RYAN: Our next speaker will be Lou Lou Bangura, a Sierra Leonean refugee.
MS. BANGURA: Good afternoon, all. My name is Lou Lou and I'm from a small and beautiful country on the west coast of Africa called Sierra Leone. The war started back in 1991 when the rebels of the Revolution of the United Front attempted to overthrow the government.
My family and I were living in the capital city of Freetown. Even though things were not totally peaceful, I felt safe because I had my family, my friends and my education. In 1997, when I was 12 years old, there was a coup d'etat that sent the president into exile. The fighting continued and the army joined forces with rebels and invited them to the capital city.
The situation became really tense because of the rebels' reality for young boys to go off and fight. Girls were raped harrassed. Many people able to depart were killed, and worst of all, schools were closed down. My parents didn't like what was happening. Every one of the loved ones who left for Guinea because things really got serious.
My family lived there for two years and I lost two years of formal education. Our situation in Guinea was pretty good. My dad came to the United States long before so he filed affidavit of relationship through the Worldwide Immigration Service. We found the refugee assessment and process to be five years.
My family hardly had many problems compared to other people who had to travel a long way. I arrived in New York on the 9th of May in 2001. Two months after America, I got involved in a youth summer program. The program was set up to help newly arrived refugee youth learn about their differences and also to share their common experiences. Through the program I made many friends and we're able to adjust to a new system and American culture standard.
Without these and other refugee youth programs, I just don't think I will have the opportunities that are available to me. Today, I am still living with my father, older sister and brother in Queens. I am a senior in Bard High School Early College, an alternative program between the Department of Education and Bard College. I want to continue with my studies and get as much education as possible because that's the greatest thing I can do for my mom, who I don't get to see because she is still in Guinea. She wants us to be educated and trained. In college, I want to major in political relations and minor in media.
On a typical day, I go to school, come home and do a tremendous amount of homework. I am also part of an after school program called the Refugee Documentary Group. In the group, 12 refugees, including myself, come together to trade media and express our views about pressing issues in our lives and in the world. Our goal is to speak out, to promote a positive change, educate the world about who we are as individuals, and break stereotypes and misconceptions held now.
We hope that in a global context, we will influence world leaders in ways that prevents them from repeating past mistakes that put so many lives in jeopardy. In a smaller, more personal context, I hope that as a refugee woman, who from West Africa, that I can convince people why the U.S. Refugee Admission Program is so critical. So far, we have made two short films: a photo essay and a PSA for World Refugee Day. This weekend, I, and others, will be presenting this in Baltimore.
In conclusion, I would like people to look at me and my story and take something from it. Maybe it will change a person's life or give them an inspiration. I don't want them to feel that it's too rough for me. That way, I'll be proud of who I am, even though I've gone through really hard times, I'll be fine in this. I'm proud of who I am, (inaudible) the people who helped me to become someone they can also be proud of.
Thank you very much for your attention. -- (applause) --
MS. RYAN: Our next speaker is Dan Kosten.
MR. KOSTEN: Thank you, Kelly. I'd like to address three issues this afternoon. The first one is North Koreans in China. It is known and becoming increasingly evident to the general public that there are a significant number of North Koreans seeking asylum in China. Some estimate as many as 300,000 of them in China.
China has routinely returned them to North Korea, often resulting in imprisonment, torture and execution. This month, The Washington Post published an article on the North Korean refugee situation, stating that the Bush Administration is considering admitting thousands of North Korean refugees into the United States.
This is a very positive development, given the plight of these refugees and China's concern that they will be left alone to bear the responsibility for these refugees.
I look forward to seeing how many North Koreans will be included in the FY04 Admissions Document with the hope that there will be in the tens of thousands of Korean numbers, given the number of North Korean refugees in China.
The second subject I'd like to address is refugees in Mozambique. World Relief has and continues to be an implementing partner with UNHCR in refugee camps in Mozambique. Given the relatively manageable number of refugees in Mozambique, estimated at approximately 5,000, who are predominantly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Rwanda, we are asking that they be considered for resettlement and other durable solutions.
We think the refugees in Mozambique could serve as an excellent pilot project for UNHCR and the U.S. Government in using resettlement strategically so as to maximize the use of all three durable solutions and thereby closing the refugee camps in Mozambique. In order to accomplish this, the United States would need to include at least 3,000 admission slots for refugees in Mozambique.
The third subject I'd like to address is the total overall admissions numbers being composed for FY04. Word has it that a number as low as 50,000 refugees has been considered for FY04 admissions. I ask that this be made part of the public record that this is completely unacceptable, unacceptable for numerous reasons, three of which I would like to highlight:
First, the United States is universally recognized for its commitment to liberty, to protecting the rights of the oppressed, and for advocating for democracy and the inalienable human rights set forth in our Declaration of Independence. A number of 50,000 admissions would call into question all of these principles.
Second, such a low number of admissions would make a mockery of the Department of State, in particular PRM's Refugee Reform Agenda. How can one speak of reform with admissions numbers lower than any in recent history?
Thirdly, UNHCR has historically used resettlement primarily as a tool for those in need of immediate protection. However, it is beginning to reevaluate resettlement in terms of its strategic use as one of the three durable solutions. This is a very positive development, and one for which UNHCR should be commended.
However, one of the preconditions to utilizing resettlement strategically is, and I quote, "a substantial increase in the global resettlement capacity." The U.S., as the country providing the largest number of resettlement slots, is pivotal in making the strategic use of resettlement possible. Going from 70,000 to 50,000 admissions would completely undercut this initiative. Nothing less than 70,000 admissions should even be considered if we are going to maintain the status quo. If the U.S.'s global position as a nation of refuge and democracy, and if reform and the strategic use of resettlement are our objectives, then at least 90- to 100,000 admission numbers should be our goal.
MS. RYAN: Our next speaker is Sarah Dawn Petrin from the Vietnamese Community of Australia.
MS. PETRIN: Thank you. My name is Sarah Petrin, and I'm here to speak on behalf of the Vietnamese Community in Australia, an organization in the Philippines that has advocated for stateless Vietnamese boat persons in the Philippines since 1997. I am joined by *Thi (ph) Trinh, a Vietnamese refugee whose sister remains in the Philippines and is with me today in order to give her comments after I speak. With her is her translator, Xuan, who has also been working with the Vietnamese refugees in the Philippines for the past three years.
As many of you are aware, approximately 2,000 Vietnamese boat people remain in the Philippines today and have not been granted citizenship rights from their host government, the Philippines. In March and April of last year, I worked with this population in both Manila and Paluan. As one who has interviewed hundreds of the families who wish to enter the United States, I can attest to the situation faced by these people.
Numerous cases describe accurate accounts of persecution in Vietnam, particularly persecution due to patriarchal family links. For example, many of the cases are family members of military, political and scholarly men who were seen as a threat to the Communist regime. These people fled Vietnam and then landed in the Philippines, where it was agreed, due to the Comprehensive Plan of Action, that Philippine immigration authorities would interview these people for a Refugee Status Determination. However, the Philippine immigration authorities were not trained in RSD, nor were they mandated to provide the population protection, nor was this RSD procedure monitored by the international community.
Immigration authorities used the RSD procedure as an opportunity to profit from the people's plight. They requested bribes. They took money and gave refugee status to some. They harassed the women for sexual favors. Those who did not comply with their demands remain in the Philippines today.
The granting of Refugee Status was a divisive act, separating individuals from family members they relied on for support. This is the case of *Thi (ph) Trinh, who has been separated from her sister in the Philippines for a number of years and will give her comments shortly.
In 2001, Australian Public Television made a documentary about the life of Vietnamese refugees in the Philippines. The movie, which was appropriately titled, "In Limbo," showed that without the right to become citizens, the Vietnamese are unable to lead a normal life. Both children and adults are denied formal means of advancement for education and employment.
The Philippine Government lacks the institutional capacity to grant this population citizenship rights. Although legislation has been reviewed for a number of years, it has never gone through. These people can also not return to Vietnam, where the persecution of returnees is well documented and attested to by other people's testimony today.
The Vietnamese Community in Australia, along with the Refugee Council and Bipartisan Congressional Refugee Caucus, recommend that the Vietnamese in the Philippine be designated P-2 status.
We also support admission through the Significant Public Benefit Parole Mechanism or Humanitarian Parole. Senator Kennedy and Senator McCain have written letters supporting this effort; and this effort is also supported by officials at the U.S. Embassy in Manila.
More than half of the Vietnamese boat people in the Philippines have sponsoring relatives here, primary relatives, such as mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers who are willing to take responsibility for this caseload should they be allowed to enter.
The United States should grant the Vietnamese in the Philippines the necessary status that would allow them to come to the United States. The family ties that the Vietnamese community in the Philippines have here in the United States will foster a smooth transition to self-reliance.
When VCIS would go to the Philippines to interview the Vietnamese community, they will find that these people meet the requirements necessary for entry. Now is the right time to make a positive decision on their behalf.
And I turn it over to *Thi (ph).
MS. TRINH: (Via interpreter.) I was a refugee myself in 1989. I escaped Vietnam in 1989 with my little sister. While we was waiting for being interviewed by the UNHCR, I met my husband and he got refugee status. We got married. I lived in the States for ten years. My sister is still in the Philippines for 14 years waiting for if the U.S. grant this P-2, then I will be reunited with her.
I just want to say again to please help with her sister in the Philippines.
MS. RYAN: Our final speaker that I have on the list is Tsehaye Teferra from ECDC.
MR. TSEHAYE: Thank you. My name is Tsehaye Teferra and I am the president of the Ethiopian Community Development Council. I appreciate this opportunity to share with you ECDCís recommendations for the 2004 Refugee Admissions Program. As a national voluntary agency that partners with PRM assisting refugees ECDC represents a resettlement network of four branch offices and nine affiliated communities.
Yet, new waves of refugees continue to flee civil unrest, civil and human rights abuses, persecution and degradation throughout Africa, including Burundi, Congo Kinshasa, The Democratic Republic of Congo, the Ivory Coast, Liberia, Somalia and Sudan, to name just a few of the countries.
We all acknowledge that repatriation is the best and most durable solution for refugee populations. However for refugees who are not repatriated in a timely manner, spending all or most of their lives in the refugee camps or urban ghettos. We encourage a mix of social and economic integration between the countries of first asylum.
Therefore, we urge the U.S. to take a leadership role in developing a strategy for refugee resettlement in Africa itself. Following that, first Tanzania, took interest in the Somali Bantu refugees. On the other hand, for refugees for whom this is not possible, resettlement in other countries is the most viable solution, therefore we urge the continued admission of African refugees to the United States at yearly levels that equally reflects the need African refugees have for third-country resettlement.
From its beginning, this country has provided a safe haven in which its refugee population have thrived and continue to make significant contributions to the culture, democracy, economy, education, government, industrial infrastructure and rich diversity that sets the United States apart from other countries around the world. In fact, the U.S. Refugee Program has typically admitted all refugees of any other country that resettled refugees. Since 1975, we have resettled in this country over 2 million refugees. Africans first admitted as refugees in 1980 totaled only about 122,000. This comes to about ten points per person for the total refugees resettled during the past 28 years.
When all the refugees around the world are waiting for resettlement in the U.S., the short form is hardest and has the greatest impact on the lives of African refugees, thousands of whom were already cleared to resettle. In 2002, we resettled only 2,506. In 2003, as of July we have only 5,113. Therefore, there is a need to urgently expedite the process of African refugee admission to this country. I will refer you to the Refugee Council document that deals with the Africa section highlighting more or less what has already been said.
Long-staying refugees in camps, long-staying refugees in urban areas, and we have also children that are separated from their parents in various urban cities as well as in many camps in Africa. So I will highlight the plight of the Ethiopian, Eritrean, Somali, Sudanese refugees in Yemen and Cairo, and also the long-stayers of Ethiopian refugees in camps in Kenya that have been neglected for many, many years.
MS. RYAN: We'll do one more, and then I'm going to -- would you like to do two? Two, and that's it.
MR. GRADWIN: I'm Terry Gradwin with the Jubilee Campaign. To echo what some folks here have said about North Korea, and it's become something that I'd really like to draw PRM's attention to at several levels. At one level -- I just, I think it was yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald, an Australian publication, there was a quote in there that said, "An estimated 80,000 North Korean refugees have been refouled from China back into North Korea just in the last 12 months."
It's staggering, in particular, because everybody knows that China doesn't permit UNHCR access to this population. And UNHCR has not -- it's done everything within its power to ensure unimpeded access such as invoking binding arbitration. It's heartbreaking because the U.S. provides approximately 25 percent of the budget for the UNHCR, and, as near as I can tell, has made no public demand that its money have more to show for it.
Also, I'd like to urge the PRM to seriously consider designating displaced North Koreans as at least a Priority-2 population. It's very clear that if they should go back to their home country and be in any way tainted or associated with either foreign missionaries or foreign governments, even insofar as receiving aid from them, that they will be tainted, perhaps, facing years of political internment or worse.
I also would urge PRM to consider ways in which it might use NGO resources more effectively. Because, clearly, if these folks cannot go into the UNHCR building and they cannot generally access our consulates, which have been circled with the barbed wire, then the only way that they might be serviced is through NGOs.
And I would seriously urge PRM to consider working with NGOs to try to figure out how these folks might at least access our program. I noticed that for Asia last year, PRM's program included 4,000 admissions, maybe a few hundred were Burmese and dissident students, and most everybody else, as near as I could tell, was Vietnamese -- not a single North Korean. And I think it's time that we pay attention to that.
Also, just a quick word of thanks to the staff at PRM. I was trying to work on a case involving a derivative asylee was going to age out and just could not get through to the folks in Accra, tried repeatedly, we finally, out of desperation, called PRM and said, "Can you folks do it?"
And even though jurisdictionally y'all only handle derivative refugees, just a delightful person at the other end attended to it. And I just wanted to tell you the family got reunited, and I remain grateful for that. Also, expecting that perhaps a policy memo might come out specifically addressing the Child Status Protection Act and at what point kids actually age out; and, perhaps, urge Congress to reclarify the law if that needs to happen.
Thank you very much.
MS. RYAN: Okay. Thank you. One last question.
MS. KARADAGHI: Hi, I'm Pary Karadaghi. I'm with the Kurdish Human Rights Watch. Thank you for allowing me to give these short comments. I apologize for not having a written comment, but I couldn't do it legibly.
I just wanted to reiterate that since the current situation going on in Iraq, and the situation of the Kurds in Syria, Turkey and Iraq has not become any better, and, actually, I believe, was it a week ago or two weeks ago that Assistant Secretary Dewey visited Iraq with the High Commissioner for Refugees, Rudd Lubbers, and they visited most of the areas where returning refugees will be coming back to Iraq.
They all know that the European countries have decided to they call it "voluntary repatriation," but I think it's "forceful repatriation" to Iraq, while to be returned to Iraq where there is nothing, no infrastructure, no housing in many places, no electricity or services available to this population, would be a gross humanitarian or human rights abuses in my opinion.
Some of these refugees in European countries have ties to either U.S. citizens or U.S. green card holders or U.S. refugees or asylees. I seriously encourage PRM to look into this population, and, perhaps, resettle them for family reunification or at P-3 category.
MS. KARADAGHI: Again, the Iranian Kurds living in Iraq are in no better a situation. You may -- many of you already know, and those are a vulnerable group that needs to be looked at.
I would like to add to the comments of HIAS. Gideon mentioned religious minorities in Iran. I would like to add ethnic groups as well, such as the Kurds, which would include Zoroastrians and Bahai's, as well. And that, the other population that we have talked about a lot, and I know RCUSA has tried -- members have worked on -- is the Kurds of Syria, who are considered stateless and number about 300,000 Kurds in Syria, who have no rights for education, higher education, employments with, you know, government jobs, and I seriously -- and urge you to look into the conditions, okay?
MS. RYAN: Thank you very much. I would like to say to everyone who came, thank you very, very, very much. I can tell you that I have been chairing NGO meetings now for, I think, 11 years in the government, and to me, this is one of the best, if not the best, that I have ever attended.
I want to say thank you to the faith-based organizations, the secular and human rights organizations, and most particularly, to the refugees themselves, who have spoken today. It's wonderful for them to get the opportunity to make their voices heard in their new country. And it's very inspiring and exciting to hear what they have done and their views of the program.
Instead of trying to respond specifically to ideas that were given today -- and there were very specific ideas and more general ideas about the direction of the program -- I do hope that we will be able to give, where we were asked for specific advice, to get back to you on it, or to set up separate meetings on particular issues such as the Vietnamese in the Philippines and international religious freedom, obligations for the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security.
What I promise to do is to report back faithfully to Assistant Secretary Dewey on your views, and to give him a very full account of what happened today, so that it can help inspire our internal deliberations. I expect the Department of Homeland Security will be doing that with Mr. Agiri.
So we will make sure that your ideas are taken into account as we continue the consultation process. And while I can't promise to adopt or to get adopted all the ideas you've had, many of the ideas are those that we have been working under or with ourselves, and they compliment the ideas of reform that we're going to hopefully be able to lay out in the coming months for you to get your ideas and feedback on it.
There is a lot of work to be done in making our program strong and to make sure that the access is there for those who need it, to make sure that we combat fraud, which we have already started working on very robustly together. So I just want to tell you that I'm humbled and very grateful to you.
I thank you for your discipline in making your comments so precise and so finely honed and so short. And I know that that was difficult. And I have probably talked more than three minutes myself. But thank you very much. And, again, I'd like to give a deadline, if I could.
If you could have -- if you're going to do any written comments, have them in within the next week because we really want to take advantage of your thoughts and your brainpower, and the advocacy you do on behalf of refugees and other constituent groups and their countries. So thank you very, very, very much. It's been very helpful.