The Acting Asst. Secretary for the Office of Population, Refugees and Migration answered questions about the US Refugee Resettlement Program in Geneva last week. There is nothing earth-shattering here but it gives you some further idea of how Refugee Resettlement works (one of the reasons we write this blog in the first place).
Samuel Whitten told reporters at a press conference connected with an Executive Committee meeting of the UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) the following:
In the last year ending September 30, the U.S. contributed a total of $1.44 billion to help refugees, conflict victims, stateless persons and vulnerable migrants around the world. We funded both international organizations and non-governmental organizations, working to improve the lives of these populations of concern.
I suspect they are all a little worried about what the worldwide economic downturn will mean for funding in the coming year. Or, more precisely if the US sugar daddy will continue to put out.
As for the number of refugees resettled in the last fiscal year, Whitten predicts higher numbers in FY09:
With respect to the resettlement of refugees in the United States, we ended the year having resettled over 60,000 refugees in total. This is by far our highest level in recent years. We’re looking forward to an even higher number in the coming year. The largest number of refugees coming into the United States originated in Burma and Iraq. This year we initiated an additional large program for Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.
A lot of the questioning involved the Iraqi displaced people. Questioners wanted to know why we weren’t resettling more. Whitten said:
At this point we don’t know what our number will be for 2009, but our estimation, based on the fact that we now have developed processing capacity throughout the region, that it will be at least 17,000 and perhaps substantially more.
He then tells the reporters about the Special Immigrant Visa program (that is the Kennedy bill) signed into law by George Bush which makes provision for up to 5000 Iraqi immigrants who can claim some connection to having worked for the US.
I would mention at this point that although the Special Immigrant Visa Program is not a part of my part of the State Department, it’s a special visa program for Iraqis affiliated with the United States.
With respect to your question about immigrant visas this is, as I say, a separate program and I will give you my best information on it. The U.S. Congress has created a special category for immigrant visas into the United States. The acronym is SIV, or Special Immigrant Visa. Under that program the United States has a limit of 5,000 visas a year plus dependent family members of the principal applicants. These are individuals typically who have had some association, have worked with the United States. We are also processing SIV applications inside of Iraq at our embassy in Baghdad.
Whitten does tell reporters that the US goal is to get Iraqis back home. He is a little soft when he says the last line of the following (What does “individuals who want to be resettled mean? Half the world wants to be resettled here!):
The U.S. and other countries do not expect that resettlement in third countries will be the primary way the international community assists Iraqi refugees. For most of the refugees the goal is a return with dignity to a safe Iraq, but we do intend to continue providing for those individuals who want to be resettled.
When a questioner asked where Iraqis would be resettled, he confirms what we already know. The State Department doesn’t decide, these non-profit contractors (with no accountability to the electorate) decide if your city or town is the next home of the world’s destitute.
Your other question was about where in the United States are they resettled. This is a national program in the United States. We work with ten agencies around the United States including the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops, the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and others. The way this works is that the Iraqis who come in, just like refugees from Burma or Africa or anywhere, they could be placed initially in any location in the country. We do make efforts to keep people near family if there are relatives, as there are in many cases. If they don’t have family, if they don’t have that kind of connection they are initially placed with an agency that has told us they have an infrastructure capable of helping them with, for example, an apartment, with job training and so forth. We rely very heavily on agencies and organizations around the United States to help with refugee placement. And it’s only because we have this good network of ten organizations around the country that we were able to bring in over 60,000 this year and I believe it will be a larger number if all goes well in 2009.
Does Whitten know how these agencies have been screwing up? I doubt it, but bring more refugees anyway.