Since 1980, 112,500 refugees from Near East and South Asian countries have been offered resettlement in the U.S. Most have been Iranian (approximately 47,000), Iraqi (31,200), or Afghan (28,000). The majority of refugees currently identified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as in need of third country resettlement are Iraqis and Iranians, mostly members of religious and ethnic minorities who have sought temporary asylum in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, and Syria -- Afghans displaced by civil conflict and religious persecution. Some Iranians and Iraqis eligible for U.S. resettlement apply directly for interviews at Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) refugee processing offices in Europe. INS conducts regular interviewing visits to Turkey, Pakistan, Syria, and Jordan, and began conducting interviews in Lebanon in November 1999. Visits also are planned for Kuwait, Cyprus, and Yemen in FY 2000.
Nearly 2 million Iraqis fled the fighting during the Gulf war. Though most returned at the end of the war, significant numbers remained in countries of first asylum, fearing persecution in Iraq. Some 39,000, including ethnic and religious minorities and others who participated in the uprising against the Iraqi regime, remained in refugee camps in Saudi Arabia. From 1991 until 1997, the U.S. participated in a multi-country resettlement effort led by the UNHCR for Iraqi refugees in Rafha camp in Saudi Arabia. The effort resulted in third country resettlement of 24,260 refugees; about 12,200 came to the U.S. The Department and INS are coordinating a visit to Rafha camp in FY 2000 to process a number of outstanding cases not previously interviewed and 100-150 newly referred cases.
The FY 2000 program provides for UNHCR referrals of Iraqi refugees deemed at risk or in need of a durable solution, as well as qualifying immediate family members of persons lawfully in the U.S. who appear and apply directly at INS offices.
In Iran, the Islamic government restricts religious freedom and subjects certain religious minorities to widespread discrimination and harassment. Members of these groups, including Bahais, often face legal penalties and persecution. As persons of special concern to the United States, refugees who are members of Iranian religious minorities may apply directly to our program at refugee processing posts regardless of family links and without U.S. embassy or UNHCR referral. They must be able to demonstrate in an individual interview with the INS that they have experienced persecution.
More than 2 million Afghan refugees have fled to neighboring Iran and Pakistan alone. Urban Afghan women who may have worked outside the home before the current regime took power and who have no immediate male family members have been identified by UNHCR as most in need of resettlement. The U.S. plans to process 400-500 UNHCR referrals of Afghan women-at-risk for the FY 2000 Resettlement Program.
FY 2000 Admissions Program
The proposed FY 2000 ceiling for refugee admissions from the Near East and South Asia is 8,000, twice the FY 1999 level. In addition to an increase in the number of Priority One referrals from UNHCR across the region, the Department is facilitating greater access to the U.S. Resettlement Program for Priority Two-eligible Iranians and Priority Three-eligible Iraqis and Iranians, and is working with UNHCR to identify a larger number of Afghan refugees requiring resettlement, especially women-at-risk.
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