Terrorist attacks slow U.S. Refugee program to a crawl

June 6, 2002

President George W. Bush signed a presidential determination to admit 70,000 refugees by this October but, in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, only a fraction have been admitted, leaving thousands stranded in the system.

'To date the U.S. has admitted about 12,000 refugees nationwide, contrasted with the 35-40,000 who would have been admitted by this time last year,' said Richard Parkins, executive director of Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM). He pointed out that even the 70,000 figure was 'a modest contribution to relieving a worldwide refugee crisis involving 14.9 million people and another 21 million internally displaced persons.'

Parkins estimated that about 40,000 refugees will be stranded and 'the human consequence is the prolonged suffering refugees will endure as they languish in squalid camps overseas. For many, family reunions will be postponed as relatives who have waited for years to be reunited are told that the possibility has been indefinitely postponed,' he said.

'The cause of this crisis is the implementation of more stringent and elaborate security measures as a result of September 11,' he added. 'While respecting the need for greater protection against terrorism, it should be noted that refugees have consistently been among the most scrutinized and vetted of any immigrant coming to this country--and many are themselves the victims of terror. Their dream is to become productive American citizens and to express through their patriotism gratitude for the hospitality they receive.'

At a May 21 news conference, the Refugee Council USA chair Lenny Glickman said, 'This isn't a numbers game. This is a rescue program--and time is running out. Innocent refugees are dying. They are in critical need of rescue and our rescue program is failing them.' The council has participated in Senate hearings on the mounting crisis, insisting that America can and must honor its commitment and apply its strength to rescue those fleeing terror.

'As a result of our advocacy efforts, the Department of State and the Immigration and Naturalization Service have accelerated their efforts to expand efforts to identify especially vulnerable refugees, those whose safety is at risk if they aren't rescued,' said Parkins. 'Refugee and human rights organizations have stressed that our national resolve to protect ourselves from external threat should not cause us to set aside our historical commitment to rescuing desperate people from persecution and terror.'

Parkins said that refugee agencies will 'continue to press for a federal strategy that restores a generous, responsive refugee admissions program.'