United States Committed to Admitting Refugees, U.S. Official Says

By Carolee Walker
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – Even though the number of worldwide refugees is at its lowest in the last 26 years, the United States remains committed to admitting refugees in an effort to promote President Bush’s “freedom agenda and to champion human dignity globally,” Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey told a U.S. Senate hearing on U.S. refugee policy September 27.

Nearly 9 million refugees are in the care of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations’ refugee agency in Geneva. Liberians, Afghans, Sudanese, Burundians and others returned to their homelands or found permanent refuge in asylum locationsin 2006,Sauerbrey said.

“The United States' Refugee Admissions Program has always been and remains a wonderful reflection of who we are as a people; generous, compassionate and immensely proud of our cultural diversity,” Sauerbrey said in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Currently, large numbers of refugees are being resettled in the United States and elsewhere as the United States partners with other governments to settle Burundians in Tanzania, Eritreans in Ethiopia and Congolese in Burundi, she said.

Sauerbrey said the United States plans to admit up to 70,000 refugees in fiscal year 2007 and is already in the process of admitting some 42,000 refugees representing more than 60 nationalities this year. “I have recently visited three refugee hosting countries in South and Southeast Asia - Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand - and saw clear evidence of the need to extend the reach of our program to thousands of refugees who require resettlement to end the limbo of unsatisfactory and unresolved protracted situations,” she told the committee. She urged the international community to move swiftly to resettle 100,000 Bhutanese in Nepal.

The first nine North Korean refugees to be granted asylum since the passage of the 2004 North Korean Human Rights Act have been admitted to the United States and are being resettled, Sauerbrey said. She told the committee that even though most North Koreans seeking refuge will continue to resettle in the Republic of Korea, the United States is working to ensure that more will be settled in U.S. locations. (See related article.)

“We have also implemented a mechanism to allow NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] engaged in refugee assistance overseas to refer compelling cases,” Sauerbrey said.

The refugee admission program has felt the effects of terrorism-related provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, Sauerbrey said. Since then, officials from the departments of State, Homeland Security and Justice have been working together to approve the entry of individuals who pose no security threat to the United States, she added.

The full text of Sauerbrey’s testimony is available on the State Department Web site.

For additional information about U.S. refugee policy, see Humanitarian Assistance and Refugees.