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Welcome to "Ask the State Department" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to State Department officials.

Ellen R. Sauerbrey, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration led an online discussion regarding World Refugee Day and related issues on Friday, June 23, 2006.


Ellen R. Sauerbrey,  Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
Ellen R. Sauerbrey
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration

Event Date: June 23, 2006

Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey :

photo of refugee and child

Thank you for your interest in refugee issues and in the work of the State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.  I am very pleased to take these questions particularly as we marked World Refugee Day this week.  I have been very moved by all the expressions of interest in the plight of refugees and the willingness of people to help refugees, these courageous people who have suffered from persecution but bravely struggle on in the hope a better future and a life in freedom.  We want to do everything we can to keep that flame of hope alive.

We don't have the space to answer all of the questions that were sent in, but I would like to mention that you can get more general information on the U.S. Refugee Program on our website:  www.state.gov/g/prm

Many of you expressed interest in Refugee Admissions programs in various regions of the world.  You can find fact sheets at www.state.gov/g/prm/rls/fs/2006/

Morris writes:

I am a Burmese refugee residing in Frederick, Maryland. My question is that; the U.S. government is so much interested in helping African countries or other countries to create democracy for those countries. Why not threaten with military action against the world's worst dictator of Burma. Why? I mean I have no doubt that the Burmese dictatorship government will voluntarily step down if the U.S. does. It will not really need to send troops to Burma. Only the US can help Burma.

Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey:

It is very nice to hear from someone, like you, who has been able to start a new life in the United States.  In terms of the general situation with Burma, please allow me to quote Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who recently said to the people of Burma: "Your dream of democracy is not forgotten, nor is it yours to bear alone.  American stands with you.  We remain with you as your dedicated partner and we will work to hasten the coming of days when you will once again live in freedom, peace and prosperity."

 My responsibility is for refugee protection and assistance, and I can tell you that we have programs throughout Southeast Asia to work with Burmese refugees.  I am traveling to region myself later this summer to get a first-hand look at the situation.  As you know, we have also resettled refugees to the United States, and will continue to do so - processing has recently begun at the Tham Hin camp in Thailand, where about 9,000 Burmese refugees reside, and we hope to be able to bring many of them to the United States.

Robert in North Carolina writes:

I need a contact number for the Refugee Coordinator. I am trying to assist to underage girls who are Sudanese citizens living in the refugee camp IFO Dadab in Kenya. Their parents are deceased, but their grandmother lives in NC, but is a Legal Permanent Resident. Without proof of the parents being deceased the grandmother has not basis for a regular immigrant visa. I am trying to assist her with a refugee filing.

Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey:

Thank you very much for your question.  We are extremely concerned about the plight of unaccompanied refugee minors, who often have special protection concerns.  In the case that you raise, the best option for the girls is a referral from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  The U.S. government relies on UNHCR to determine, through a process known as a Best Interest Determination (BID), whether resettlement to a third country is the most appropriate durable solution for an unaccompanied refugee minor.  A BID involves an extensive study of the unaccompanied minor's living situation, and often includes family tracing through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to determine whether there are living parents and/or other relatives. This process often takes considerable time, as neither UNHCR nor the U.S. government take lightly the transporting of children across international borders.   

If UNHCR determines that resettlement is the appropriate durable solution, refers the case to the United States, and it is approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services , the State Department would work through a voluntary resettlement agency in the United States to either place the minor in refugee foster care, or with relatives, if they exist.  In the latter case, the resettlement agency would conduct a home study to determine whether the relative has the capacity to accept the family member. 

For more information on the referral process and on groups that offer assistance to unaccompanied minors, please contact the Washington office of UNHCR at 202-296-5191.

BT writes:

I want to know what the State Department is doing to secure the safe asylum of ten North Korean refugees presently held captive in Laos. There are two South Koreans also being held who apparently helped these ten people escape North Korea.

It is my understanding that these people fled North Korea for religious persecution and were arrested in Laos. They are presently being held in Laos pending whether they should be returned to North Korea or not. If they are returned, they could face long imprisonment or death for their religious convictions. I would like to know what the State Department knows about this situation and what you are doing to encourage Laos to not return these people to North Korea.

Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey:

Thank you for your question.  I hope you will understand that I am not able to comment on any specific situation, such as the one you describe.  The United States has long been concerned about the plight of North Korean refugees, and we are in close contact with many organizations and individuals seeking to protect and assist them.  The United States regularly discusses its concerns with governments in the region as well as with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees  and concerned non-governmental and private groups.  The United States also vigorously and consistently urges all nations to adhere to their international obligations with respect to refugees and to refrain from repatriating North Koreans to the DPRK.

Joel writes:

I would please like to inquire about information that may be available with regards to possible refugee status for someone from Nalchik Kabardino-Balkariya. I believe that it is in Russia but am not sure. Is there any refugee status that is available for people of Russia?

If yes what are the requirements and the proper steps for application for 1-4 people in a family?

Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey:

Thank you for your question.  Nalchik is the capital of Kabardino-Balkar Republic of the Russian Federation.  The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is open to individuals from any country, including Russia, who are determined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to be refugees who need resettlement in a third country.  UNHCR will make the determination if the individuals are refugees under international law, and what sort of protection and assistance would be appropriate for their situation.  If UNHCR determines that they need third-country resettlement, they may refer the cases to the U.S. for consideration.  Under U.S. law, only the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (DHS/USCIS) can determine if a person is a refugee eligible for admission to the United States.

Emily writes:

Hello. I am a librarian at the American University in Cairo. I have catalogued the 1991 World Refugee Report published by the US Dept of State Bureau of Refugee Programs. Is the World Refugee Report series still published? If so, could you please tell me how I could get a copy of the missing years (1992-2005)?

Thank you.

Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey:

I am pleased to hear that you are cataloging information on refugee issues.  The World Refugee Report series was, in fact, discontinued.  We continue to provide an annual report to Congress on our refugee admissions program, which is available on-line (http://www.state.gov/g/prm/refadm/rls/rpts/c15732.htm).  You might also consider acquiring the publication by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees:  "The State of the Worlds Refugees 2006:  Human Displacement in the New Millenium."  I would refer you to www.unhcr.org for further information.

Reza writes:

I am a permanent resident as a direct result of refugee status. How can I get document of legal capacity for traveling to the Philippines so I can get married there?  Thank you.

Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey:

I am happy to hear you have attained the status of Lawful Permanent Resident and now have your 'green card.'  It is the first step for a refugee on the way to U.S. citizenship.  The question about your travel document is really a question for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  I recommend you contact your local immigration legal service provider, perhaps at the agency that helped resettle you, or contact your nearest USCIS office directly.  You may find useful information online at: http://www.uscis.gov/graphics/index.htm.

Julie writes:

Can you please tell me if the new Traveling Refugee Officers which is part of Homeland Security will be going to Buduburam Camp in Ghana. I have been trying to help a young family apply for resettlement. How do I get their names to the right officials so they will be aware of this family? I have been trying for months to get right info, from UNHCR, but only received a form letter. Where does one go from the camp to get processed for resettlement? It would be great if you could send the traveling Refugee Officers to help this family. Conditions are horrible on the camp. Please help me to help this family.

Best Regards.

Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey:

Department of Homeland Security's Refugee Corps officers regularly visit Buduburam Camp to review cases which have been referred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for consideration for third country resettlement.. 

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