- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2007

WASHINGTON (AP) The Bush administration increased more than fivefold today the number of Near East and South Asian refugees the U.S. can admit as it seeks to accept 12,000 Iraqi refugees during the next 12 months.

Overall, Mr. Bush said that up to 80,000 refugees from around the world can be admitted to the United States in the next year. That’s up 10,000 from last year’s ceiling of 70,000.

Mr. Bush announced the figure in a memo to the secretary of state, as he does each year after consulting Congress as required by law. The president laid out maximum numbers to be accepted from each region of the globe:

28,000 from the Near East and South Asia, up from 5,500.

20,000 from East Asia, up from 11,000.

16,000 from Africa, down from 22,000.

3,000 from Europe and Central Asia, down from 6,500.

3,000 from Latin America and the Caribbean, down from 5,000.

The remaining 10,000 can be allocated by the State Department to various regions as the need arises. Last year, the reserve was 20,000.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 2 million Iraqis have fled their country. Of these, 1.2 million are in Syria, 750,000 in Jordan, 100,000 in Egypt, 54,000 in Iran, 40,000 in Lebanon. 10,000 in Turkey and 200,000 in various Persian Gulf countries.

The United States admitted 1,608 Iraqi refugees over the past 12 months, but still fell short of its goal for the year despite more admissions during the past two months.

The slow pace was blamed on bureaucratic slowdowns at the State Department, which is in charge of refugee resettlement, and the Department of Homeland Security, which must screen would-be admittees. Another factor was a lack of cooperation from some foreign countries.

The performance sparked criticism from refugee advocacy groups and lawmakers who complained that Washington was not doing enough for those who have fled violence in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced the appointment of two senior officials from their agencies to clear the logjam that has hampered admissions.

Several days later, administration officials announced that the United States would accept 1,000 Iraqi refugees a month for the next fiscal year beginning this month for a total of 12,000 between Sept. 30, 2007, and Oct. 1, 2008.

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