IRC Urges Bush Administration to Revive Lagging Refugee Resettlement Program
Six months after President Bush authorized the admission of 70,000 refugees in 2002, the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program is moving at an alarmingly sluggish pace. As of May 1, fewer than 11,000 individuals had been admitted into the U.S., compared with more than 35,000 by the same time last year.
"Only five months remain in the fiscal year for the Bush administration to restore the resettlement program and honor the president's commitment," said Robert Carey, the IRC's vice president for resettlement. To reach President's Bush goal, 11,800 refugees would have to arrive every month between May and September. Currently, thousands of refugees, 80 percent of whom are women and children, languish in refugee camps, often in deplorable conditions, while awaiting resettlement in another country.
Following the September 11 attacks, refugee resettlement was the only immigration program that came to a complete halt until additional security measures could be implemented. The moratorium lasted until the President signed a determination on November 21 authorizing the resumption of refugee admissions. Citing "humanitarian concerns" and "national interest," President Bush called for the admission of up to 70,000 refugees, a twelve and a half percent decline from the previous year.
By the end of January, however, there was little sign that the Immigration and Naturalization Service was admitting refugees anywhere near traditional levels. By the end of January, 2,789 individuals had arrived in America, compared with more than 16,000 in the same period a year earlier. Little has improved since then.
The initial halt and the ongoing slowdown have left families already in America separated from their children and parents, some of them approved for resettlement and waiting to travel. Of particular concern to the IRC and other resettlement agencies, are "at risk" women who have suffered sexual abuse and psychological trauma and children with urgent medical conditions.
"The numbers matter little in the end," explained Carey. "It is the human cost. Lives are at stake."
If the administration fails to take immediate steps, America's tradition of helping the victims of terror and oppression to rebuild their lives will be seriously undermined, he said.
The International Rescue Committee is urging the President to demonstrate his leadership by reaffirming his commitment to the promise he made six months ago.