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After seeing how refugees are vetted, some readers asked us to go back even further in the process and explain how cases are referred to the U.S.
Only a small fraction of refugees are referred for resettlement to 30 countries, including the U.S., said Chris Boian, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, the U.N. agency tasked with coordinating the international refugee response.
READ MORE: You asked: How are refugees vetted today?
Out of 16 million refugees who are registered with the U.N. refugee agency, only 150,000 were resettled in other countries last year, of which 85,000 came to the U.S. “The U.S. has traditionally been the largest recipient of refugees in need of resettlement,” he said.
Once they flee their home country, refugees can register with the government of the host country and UNHCR to receive assistance.
UNHCR conducts interviews and works with the host governments and local partners to determine which refugees are most in need of resettling in a third country. Refugees who get the priority are those with acute medical needs, like someone needing heart surgery; at-risk women and girls, including single female heads of households; and victims of torture.
UNHCR conducts interviews, gathers and cross-checks biographical information, and collects biometric data, such as iris scans for Syrians and fingerprints.
The refugees who agree to enter the resettlement process don’t get to choose where they go, said Boian. UNHCR works with countries willing to accept refugees to determine where to refer them, taking into account the country’s quotas, if the refugees have friends or family already living there, and their cultural affinities, he said.
Once a decision on the placement country is made, UNHCR delivers a list of the refugees for the government to consider. The governments themselves then begin the process of their own screening.
Some refugees wouldn’t get referred to the U.S., such as those who committed a crime or are deemed a security risk for any reason, said Boian. “We don’t want to make referrals when we know there’s no chance it will work out.”
Those not selected for resettlement either remain in the host country or, if they want to go home, they can do so, he said.
Countries also can admit refugees separate from UNHCR. An example is the U.S. special immigrant visa program, which applies mostly to Afghan and Iraqi translators or others who may have worked with the U.S. military and are deemed at risk in their home countries because of the work.
The State Department oversees refugee vetting for the United States, and it is all conducted overseas before visas are issued and the refugees arrive in the U.S.
President Donald Trump halted the refugee resettlement program in an executive order last month to review vetting procedures. A federal court put a stop to that order, and the administration is planning to release a revised version in the coming days.
Mr. Trump said in a speech to Congress on Tuesday that he wanted to switch to a “merit-based” immigration system based on the principle that those seeking to enter the U.S. “are able to support themselves financially.”
Boian said refugees — or those forced to flee their homes — are a different, smaller category than economic migrants. Refugees get financial support for the first few months they arrive in the U.S., after which they are expected to provide for themselves.
They get jobs, send their children back to school, and are just thankful to have a safe and healthy place to live, he said.
Larisa Epatko produced multimedia web features and broadcast reports with a focus on foreign affairs for the PBS NewsHour. She has reported in places such as Jordan, Pakistan, Iraq, Haiti, Sudan, Western Sahara, Guantanamo Bay, China, Vietnam, South Korea, Turkey, Germany and Ireland.
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