- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) — The United States will set a record this fiscal year for refusing sanctuary to eligible asylum seekers, admitting about 25,000 refugees.

Refugee advocates blame terrorism fears as well as an obsolete asylum program that still lists “Soviets” as one of the top five nationalities deserving U.S. protection.

As of last Tuesday, the number of resettlements for this fiscal year, which ends next Tuesday, is only half the quota of 50,000 admissions approved by President Bush for the year. That ceiling itself was a new low.

“We’re seeing a total deterioration,” said Joel Charny, an analyst for Refugees International, a Washington-based lobby group.



Refugee resettlement officials see signs that the 2004 quota, to be determined by the White House in mid-October, won’t grow. A State Department briefing with congressional immigration staffers this week left some attendees with strong indications that the refugee quota would stay low or drop even lower.

U.S. officials say the program is in transition. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the tightening of domestic security measures, a lack of U.S. resettlement staffers and refugee-admission criteria based on Cold War-era thinking are to blame for the sharp dip, officials say.

One example of why the United States will fall short of reaching its quota: Roughly 6,000 Afghan refugees cleared for admittance to the United States suddenly find themselves facing repatriation to a country that is basically under U.S. control but still highly unstable.

Arthur Dewey, undersecretary of state for population, refugees and migration, said a program conceived in 1980 — when refugees came mostly from Southeast Asia and the Soviet Union — now must deal with about 80 areas of conflict.

This comes at a time when the new, terrorism-focused Department of Homeland Security has control over who gets into this immigrant nation.

Mr. Dewey said his critics know the constraints U.S. refugee officials faced this year. He noted that they were able to at least relocate large numbers of refugees to less dangerous areas of West and East Africa, and that an asylum program is in no danger of disappearing.

“We will find the resources to continue it, and Congress will make sure of that,” Mr. Dewey said last week.

The September 11 attacks prompted Washington to slash refugee admissions for three straight years, accelerating a steady decline in the refugee-resettlement program originally designed to harbor escapees from communist countries during the Cold War.

But the superpower standoff ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, and the resulting power vacuums led to ethnic and religious fighting that have resulted in refugee figures exceeding those of the first two world wars.

An estimated 34 million people are either refugees or displaced within the often-fragile borders of their own countries. Since 1990, one in every 100 persons has had to flee his or her homeland.

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