- The Washington Times - Monday, September 23, 2002

LONDON Every war has unintended consequences. Advocates say the "collateral damage" in the war against terrorism has included some of the world's most vulnerable people: refugees fleeing persecution in their homelands.
"September 11 came at a time when there was already increasing negativity towards refugees and asylum seekers," said Eve Lester, refugee coordinator for Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group. "September 11 has added a complicating factor to an already difficult situation."
In the year since the terrorist attacks, the United States has dramatically slowed its refugee resettlement program. Other countries have followed suit.
The result is that people in fear of persecution often languish in refugee camps where they cannot live safe or productive lives. The risks in refugee camps are well documented. Recently, rapes have been reported in camps in Kenya, and in April two Rwandan refugee children were murdered in Nairobi. In Guinea, security is so poor that food aid sometimes does not reach those who need it most.
Those who work with refugees realize that countries need to keep their people safe. But they note that none of the people involved in the September 11 attacks entered the United States as a refugee.
"As a colleague of mine said: Sitting in a refugee camp would not be the most intelligent way to come here as a terrorist, because you could sit there for years," said Bob Carey, a vice president of the International Rescue Committee, which helps resettle refugees in the United States.
After the attacks, the U.S. refugee program was halted for two months. In late November in a determination normally announced by Oct. 1 President Bush said the country would accept 70,000 refugees during the year that ends Sept. 30.
But as of July 31, only 20,417 had been let in. Officials of the Immigration and Naturalization Service acknowledge that they will not come close to the goal of 70,000.
"Who are these 50,000 people who won't get to come?" asked Lavinia Limon, who directs the U.S. Committee for Refugees, an advocacy group. "Most are children and vulnerable women living in very precarious situations. Now they are waiting around for these security clearances. It's very disturbing from a humanitarian point of view."
Mrs. Limon is also concerned by anti-immigrant rhetoric that has cropped up in European countries.
"I'm very worried refugees will become collateral damage in the war on terrorism," she said. "These are people who by definition are fleeing terror. Without U.S. leadership, the concern is that countries will become so cautious that as a whole the community of nations won't live up to its obligations."
INS officials cite several reasons for the slowdown. There was the two months lost prior to Mr. Bush's decision on the numbers. More stringent fingerprinting requirements mean that no more than 35 refugees can arrive on one plane, and they can land at only five U.S. airports Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, Newark and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
"We're trying to balance security and safety with offering a safe haven to those fleeing persecution," said Kimberly Weissman, an INS spokeswoman.
The slowdown has had effects around the world.
Refugees from Latin America and the Caribbean are having much more difficulty reaching the United States, even though most countries in the region have no history of terrorism directed at this country.
"There's all kind of fingerprinting and background checks going on," said Randy McCrory, a lawyer for Catholic Legal Services in Miami who works with refugees and immigrants. "Across the board, it's a much more cumbersome process."
The new restrictions come as the numbers of would-be immigrants from Latin America are swelling, due to economic turmoil in Argentina, political instability in Venezuela and the long-running guerrilla war in Colombia.
For Mexico, one casualty of the war on terrorism has been the collapse of progress toward a migration accord with the United States. President Vicente Fox is still pursuing an agreement that might offer legal work visas to as many as several million undocumented Mexicans currently working in the United States. But progress froze after September 11.
It is not only the United States that has tightened control of its borders. Asylum seekers from Asia and the Middle East who once saw Australia as an attractive target are looking elsewhere because Australia's stance toward refugees has hardened in the past year.
Shortly before the September 11 attacks, Prime Minister John Howard's government refused entry into its waters to a boatload of mostly Afghan refugees who had been rescued from a sinking ferry. Since then, more boats filled with asylum seekers have been turned away.
Mr. Howard's policies have received support thanks to anti-immigrant sentiment heightened now by fears of terrorism. Australia says potential asylum-seekers now head for other countries, especially in Europe.
But European countries are hardening their attitudes as well. Recently, Britain said it would begin to deport Afghans who fail to prove their asylum claims, because their country is now safe. Italy has said it will use its term as president of the European Union in 2003 to push to tighten the borders of the entire 15-nation union.
The restrictions have hit particularly hard in Africa, the source of many of the world's refugees. And Africans are not only languishing in refugee camps. The number of internally displaced people within African countries seems to be increasing, said Roberta Cohen, a senior adviser to the U.N. secretary-general's representative for internally displaced persons.
Many advocates are lobbying the Bush administration to set the goal for next year at 100,000 new refugees.
"In some ways this is about who we are as a nation," said Mrs. Limon of the U.S. Committee for Refugees. "If we stand for freedom, then we have to be willing to share it with this small number of people deemed as those most in trouble in the world."
That holds not only for the United States but for the rest of the world, too, said Miss Lester of Amnesty International.
"If we sell out now the basic rights that people have to protection," she said, "then in a sense we sell our souls."


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