- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 27, 2007

‘Second-class’ allies

The Hungarian ambassador was blunt when he told Congress that his citizens are angered by the U.S. failure to include them in a program that allows select foreigners to visit the United States without first obtaining restrictive visas.

“The Hungarian public gets a feeling that our citizens are not welcome to visit the USA based on the mere assumption that they cannot be trusted to return to their homelands,” Ambassador Andras Simonyi said in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Europe subcommittee.

Mr. Simonyi said the refusal to exempt Hungarians and other Eastern European nations is starting to erode the pro-American feelings among the citizens of those countries, many of which sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq. Those were the nations of the former Soviet bloc that Donald H. Rumsfeld, while defense secretary, called the “New Europe.”

“Hungarians feel that they are unfairly treated as second-class citizens,” Mr. Simonyi said. “These are the same Hungarians who have served shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans, the same Hungarians who are a strong ally as members of NATO and a staunch advocate of trans-Atlantic partnerships as members of the [European Union].”

Mr. Simonyi and the ambassadors from the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and the Slovak Republic signed a letter to Congress, urging that their countries be included in the Visa Waiver Program. So far, 27 nations, mostly western European, are included in the program, which requires special, secure passports and permits travelers to stay in the United States for up to 90 days for business or tourism.

The House is considering a bill to include more countries, while the Senate has passed a measure that expands the program but still includes too many restrictions, the ambassadors say.

Mr. Simonyi added that the U.S. immigration officials should have no concerns about Hungarians or citizens from other EU nations overstaying their visas in order to take jobs illegally because they have access to employment throughout the European Union.

“It is safe to say that visa-free travel from our [EU] countries does not represent a threat to the U.S. labor market,” he said.

‘Moral imperative’

The United States has a “moral imperative” to provide a home to refugees, said Ambassador James F. Moriarty, who announced that Washington will help resettle more than half of the 107,000 refugees from Bhutan living in camps in Nepal.

As the U.S. envoy in Nepal, Mr. Moriarty last week visited camps in Jhapa, near the country’s southern border with India. He told the refugees that the United States will help relocate 60,000 of them and added that they will be eligible for permanent residency status within a year of their resettlement.

The refugees are ethnic Nepalese, mostly Hindu, who fled from Bhutan beginning in the 1990s when the government of the Buddhist-majority nation opened a campaign to promote Bhutan’s language and culture.

“The United States is the world’ largest refugee-resettlement country. More than 2 million refugees have found a home is the U.S. since 1975,” the ambassador said.

“Our interest in resettlement is a humanitarian one. We believe that our response to refugees is a moral imperative to alleviate the suffering of others.”

Mr. Moriarty said each refugee who applies for resettlement in the United States will get a personal interview with a U.S. diplomat.

“Upon arrival in the United States, you are no longer considered a refugee,” Mr. Moriarty explained. “There are no refugee camps in America. You will not be expelled from the United States. You will be free to move around the country, to seek employment according to your interests and to worship as you desire.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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