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Refugees: A Fact Sheet

What is a refugee?

A refugee, as defined by Section 101(a)42 of the Immigration and Nationality Act(INA) (based on  the  United Nations 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocols  relating to the Status of Refugees) is a person who is  unable or unwilling  to return to the home country because of a “well-founded fear of persecution” due to race, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, religion, or national origin.

 How many refugees are there?

The World Refugee Survey 2009 reports that there are more than 13 million refugees worldwide.

  • The largest number of refugees is found in the Middle East and North Africa.  There are approximately 6.3 million refugees in the region.  In Syria, for example, there are approximately 1.7 million refugees from Iraq, Former Palestine, Somalia, and other countries. 
  • In Africa there are approximately 2.7 million refugees.  Kenya has more than 350,000 refugees from at least 9 countries. 
  • In South and Central Asia there are 2.5 million refugees; in East Asia and the Pacific there are 909,000;
  • in the Americas and the Caribbean there are 649,500; and
  • in Europe there are approximately 493,000 refugees.

What are the long-term possibilities for refugees?

The preferred long-term solution for most refugees is voluntary repatriation. That is, returning to the home country.  However, some refugees cannot repatriate.  Some languish indefinitely in refugee camps.  In some cases, third-country resettlement may be the only option.

Which countries accept refugees for resettlement?

International law does not require any country to accept refugees.  Traditionally, wealthy countries with strong immigration histories have accepted the largest number of refugees for resettlement.  Recently, some developing countries have begun to take refugees as well.  The following chart provides data on the ten countries receiving the largest numbers of refugees per capita:

Host country

Refugees resettled in 2009

Host country population

Ratio of resettled refugees to host population

Australia

8,742

21,300,000

1:2,400

Canada

10,804

33,300,000

1:3,100

United States

60,191

304,500,000

1:5,100

Norway

910

4,800,000

1:5,300

New Zealand

750

4,300,000

1:5,700

Finland

749

5,300,000

1:7,100

Iceland

29

300,000

1:10,300

Denmark

373

5,500,000

1:14,700

Netherlands

544

16,400,000

1:39,500

Ireland

101

4,500,000

1:44,600

 

How many refugees does the U.S. admit?

Each year the President, in consultation with Congress, determines the numerical ceiling for refugee admissions. The total limit is broken down into limits for each region of the world. After September 11th 2001, the number of refugees admitted into the United States fell drastically, but the numerical limits have been increased in the past several years. 

 

Year

Number of refugees admitted

2000

72,143

2001

68,925

2002

26,765

2003

28,305

2004

52,840

2005

53,738

2006

41,094

2007

48,218

2008

60,107

2009

74,602

 

For Fiscal Year 2011 the President announced that up to 80,000 refugees could be admitted to the U.S., under the following regional allocations:

 

Africa

15,000

East Asia

19,000

Europe and Central Asia

2,000

Latin America/Caribbean

5,500

Near East/South Asia

35,500

Unallocated Reserve

3,000

TOTAL

80,000

 

How does the U.S. refugee resettlement process work?

The Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) is responsible for administering the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.  United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within the Department of Homeland Security conducts refugee interviews and determines individual eligibility for refugee status in the United States.

There are three principle categories for classifying refugees under the U.S. refugee program: 

  • Priority One.  Individuals with compelling persecution needs or those for whom no other durable solution exists.  These individuals are referred to the U.S. by the UNHCR, or they are identified by a U.S. embassy or an NGO.
  • Priority Two.  Groups of “special concern” to the U.S. who are selected by the Department of State with input from USCIS, UNHCR, and designated NGOs.  Currently, the groups include certain persons from the former Soviet Union, Cuba, Iraq, Burma, Bhutan, and Eritreans.
  • Priority Three.  The refugee relatives (parents, spouses, and unmarried children under 21) of refugees who are already settled in the U.S. may be admitted as refugees.  The “anchor” in the U.S. must file an Affidavit of Relationship (AOR) and must be processed by DHS.  As of March 2008, the P-3 program is suspended for persons of certain nationalities due to indications of fraud.

Generally, to qualify, individuals must have access to a U.S. refugee processing post[1] and must not be firmly resettled in any other country.  Not everyone who falls into these categories is admitted to the U.S. 

  • Before admission to the U.S., each refugee must undergo an extensive interviewing, screening, and security clearance process by Regional Refugee Coordinators. 
  • Refugees are subject to the grounds of exclusion listed in Section 212(a) of the INA, including health-related grounds, moral/criminal grounds, and security grounds.  They may also be excluded for polygamy, misrepresentation of facts on visa applications, smuggling, and previous deportations.  Waivers exist for certain grounds of exclusion.
  • If a person is accepted as a refugee, it is conditioned upon the individual passing a medical examination and all security checks.

After a refugee has been conditionally accepted for resettlement in the U.S.,

  • The Overseas Processing Entity (OPE) sends a request for sponsorship to the U.S., and the Refugee Processing Center works with private voluntary agencies to determine where the refugee will live in the U.S.
  • The private voluntary agency is responsible for assuring that most services are provided during the refugee’s first 90 days in the U.S.  They arrange for food, housing, clothing, employment counseling, medical care, and other necessities.
  • One year after admission, a refugee may apply for Lawful Permanent Resident Status.

Published On: Thu, Oct 21, 2010 | Download File