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Interviews: In Search of a Durable Solution

In 2004, we asked five experts from the field to talk about the complex issues around working with refugees. Three years later, in conjunction with the 2007 P.O.V. films Rain in a Dry Land and Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, we checked in with some of them to see what has changed in the plight of refugees around the world, and what has remained the same.

August 2004

POV: What is the current U.S. policy towards refugees? How has policy been affected since 9/11/2001 — have there been funding changes, criteria changes?

Arthur Dewey, U.S. State DepartmentArthur E. Dewey: Welcoming refugees who have fled persecution in their home countries is a longstanding American tradition. Each year, the United States brings tens of thousands of refugees to towns and cities across the country to begin new lives in safety and dignity. This policy has not changed since September 11, 2001 and the United States remains committed to resettling refugees for whom resettlement is the most appropriate durable solution.

Since September 11, 2001, additional security requirements have been incorporated in the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, including more stringent name checks for refugees and improved physical security forU.S. government officials who travel overseas to interview refugees. These security enhancements have both lengthened processing time and increased the cost of the refugee admissions program, but in today's world, we must know who everyone is who comes into our country and there must be adequate safety for U.S. personnel.

POV: Who are the typical subcontractors hired to support refugees in the United States? What are the requirements for them?

Dewey: The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is designed to function as a public-private partnership between federal and state agencies and non-governmental organizations to provide effective and coordinated services to refugees. Currently, there are ten voluntary agencies (nine national agencies and one state government entity) who have signed cooperative agreements with the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) to provide reception and placement services to newly arrived refugees.

With the DOS-provided per capita payment and privately-raised funds, the voluntary agencies are required to provide basic services such as airport reception, housing for at least one month, essential furnishings, household goods and clothing, assistance with applications for medical and cash assistance, referrals to English language courses and job placement services, and school enrollment for children.

Each voluntary agency must have at least three years experience operating as a non-profit organization providing social services. The voluntary agency must also demonstrate an ability to raise private resources to contribute to the refugee reception and placement program.

The ten voluntary agencies with which we partner are:

  • Church World Service;
  • Episcopal Migration Ministries;
  • Ethiopian Community Development Council;
  • Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society;
  • Immigration and Refugee Services of America;
  • International Rescue Committee;
  • Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services;
  • United States Conference of Catholic Bishops;
  • World Relief Refugee Services; and
  • The State of Iowa
Lost Boys of Sudan - Santino Majok Chuor preparing a meal at the Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya.

Lost Boy Santino Majok Chuor preparing a meal at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya before coming to the United States.

POV: How many refugees enter the United States each year? How are the numbers from different parts of the world determined?

Dewey: Since 1975, the United States has admitted over 2.5 million refugees. Annual refugee admissions to the United States have ranged from a high of 207,000 in 1980 (due to the continued large number of Vietnamese we were admitting after the fall of Saigon) to a low of 27,000 in 2002, following the terrorist attacks of September 11. For fiscal year 2004 (October 1, 2003 to September 30, 2004) we expect to admit more than 52,000 refugees to the United States, a nearly 80 percent increase over the number of refugees admitted in fiscal year 2003. This has been made possible by the extraordinary efforts of the staff of PRM, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, and our partners who have successfully implemented and streamlined the enhanced security requirements imposed in the wake of September 11, 2001.

Each year, there is an extensive consultative process during which representatives of the Administration and Congress, state and local governments, and private voluntary organizations focus on refugee resettlement needs worldwide and the domestic and international implications of U.S. refugee policy. The President, after congressional consultations, establishes refugee admissions ceilings and regional allocations for the coming fiscal year. Worldwide and regional admissions ceilings are based on availability of funding, number of refugees in need of resettlement, and the ability of the U.S. government to process the individuals in need.

The President's FY 2005 proposed ceiling of refugee admissions includes 50,000 allocated regionally and an additional 20,000 unallocated numbers that can beU.S.ed in the event that numbers allocated to a particular region are insufficient and resources to fund them are identified early in the fiscal year.

POV: Once admitted to the U.S., some of the Lost Boys in the film were assisted by faith-based resettlement agencies, and some by secular NGOs. How does the United States currently approach the use of faith-based and secular resettlement contractors? How does funding for faith-based and secular agencies compare?

Dewey: The United States partners with both faith-based and secular resettlement agencies. Requirements expected of and funding provided to faith-based and secular resettlement agencies are the same. In addition to funding the reception and placement activities of these agencies' headquarters costs (e.g., sponsorship identification), PRM provides $800 per refugee for use by the local resettlement affiliate assigned to assist the refugee at their final destination. Of this amount, at least $400 must be spent on the material needs of the refugee with the balance available for service provision (caseworker salaries, office space, etc.). Of the ten resettlement agencies with which we've partnered to provide reception and placement services to recently arrived refugees, six are faith-based and four are secular.

POV: The Lost Boys in the film are just a few of the refugees from the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya — they arrived in 2001. Who are some of the other recent groups that have been admitted to America from Africa as refugees?

Dewey: Recently, some 5,500 at-risk Liberians have been resettled from Cote D'Ivoire. We anticipate resettling approximately 13,000 Somali Bantu from Kakuma camp in Kenya. Approximately 8,000 have been admitted to date; the remainder will arrive between now and spring 2005.

Arthur E. "Gene" Dewey has been the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration since 2002. He is responsible for overseeing United States government policies regarding population, refugee and international migration issues, and managing over $700 million in allocations for refugee protection, resettlement and humanitarian assistance programs. He spent 25 years in the U.S. Army, rising to be chief of the Political-Military Division. Mr. Dewey also served for five years in the State Department as deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau for Refugee Programs. Subsequently, he was named a United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and served four years in Geneva as UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees.





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