- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 4, 2002

Imagine living in a place where churches are routinely bulldozed by an invading army, Christians are forced at gunpoint to convert to Islam and children are sold by the thousands into slavery. The people in South Sudan do not have to imagine this. This is their reality. Caught in the middle of an 19-year-old civil war these people have suffered brutal treatment and indignities. Fleeing persecution from government forces has led 465,000 of them to become refugees.
Many of these refugees are now seeking political asylum. But the United States has not done its part to protect these people. Much of the problem lies in our refugee admissions ceilings. In 1992, the United States admitted 132,173. In 2000, admission were cut to 72,515. In the first seven months of fiscal 2002, the United States only admitted 12,000 refugees. Continuing at this rate will mean that our country will only admit about 40,000 refugees.
There is a good reason for the recent scaling back of admissions legitimate concerns over terrorism. Following September 11, national security became our government's highest priority. It should be. At this time in our nation's history, we can ill afford to put our people at risk for even the noble goal of protecting the oppressed people of other countries. Before we fully embrace the cause of political refugees we will have to get our arms around the terrorist threat, and this may take some time.
But once we have rooted out the terrorist cells, crushed the purveyors of terror and destroyed their ability to create weapons of mass destruction, we will need to turn our eyes back to the cause of helping those who are oppressed due to racial, ethnic, religious or political reasons. Because the United States was founded on the ideals of liberty, we have waged a struggle throughout history to create freedom and opportunity for people throughout the world. We crushed Adolf Hitler's armies in the 1940s, and we engaged in a long, protracted Cold War that brought about the demise of the Soviet Union. We have also been a haven for those seeking political asylum.
The tradition of giving refuge to the oppressed needs to be continued in our country. Once it is possible, we need to raise admission ceilings to at least 1992 levels and expedite the process of assimilating people from countries such as the Sudan into our country.
Bringing political refugees into our country is not only the right thing to do, it serves our national interest, too. Countries that are torn apart by internal strife demand intervention from the United States and other Western powers. Quick action on the Kosovo refugee crisis by democracies in the West was one factor that stifled growing instability in that region. The Congo/Rwanda case stands as an example of the opposite approach. Our inadequate response there helped pave the way for more bloodshed.
While assimilating refugees from foreign nations is a humanitarian move, and a key ingredient in averting escalating conflicts overseas, it also has economic benefits. Recent evidence indicates that refugees quickly become contributors to our national economy. According to a government-commissioned survey covering the years 1992 to 1997 conducted by Arrington Dixon and Associates, 54 percent of refugees age 16 and up who have lived in the United States for five years are employed. This compares with 64 percent for the U.S. population as a whole.
It only takes a brief glimpse at a place like the Sudan to appreciate the human value of increasing refugee admissions. The oppressed here, primarily black Christians in the south, are being attacked by government forces, made up primarily of Arab Muslims in the north. Southern Sudanese started the rebellion in 1983 because of attempts by the government to impose Islamic law on Christians.
According to an Associated Press report, at least 50 churches and Christian centers have been destroyed by government troops. Christians have been tortured and forced to convert to Islam and often have had their names changed to Arabic ones. A major hospital in Yei, in Southern Sudan, is just one medical center that has been deliberately bombed by government forces.
Slavery is also a central part of the grim reality facing Sudanese citizens. In one province, Bahr el-Ghazal, more than 5,000 people have been captured by government soldiers since the outbreak of civil war.
War-related deaths attributed to violence, famine and disease approach 2 million in South Sudan, an enormous death toll not seen since World War II. And yet, until very recently, little attention has been focused on this country.
The United States should lead the way to alleviate this litany of horrors. Our values and traditions have always honored human rights and liberty. As soon as conditions permit, we need to bring many of these people into our country, where they will lead safe and productive lives.

John Toivonen is an adjunct scholar with the Lexington Institute in Virginia.

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