Each year the United States resettles thousands of refugees approved by the State Department and Department of Homeland Security, and helps them become new Americans through a network of resettlement agencies. The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, or USCRI, is one of the agencies that participate in receiving and assisting refugees. Lavinia Limon, formerly head of the office of Refugee Resettlement under the Clinton Administration, is the president of USCRI.
"Every year we publish the world recipe survey, we publish the forty-third annual survey last year. The new one will come out this May and in that survey we saw that there were around 12-million refugees in the world. The majority of the refugees are in Africa at about three-point-two million, but Europe has eight hundred and eighty-five thousand," he says. "The East Asia-Pacific has nine hundred and fifty thousand. The Middle East has more than Africa…. four-point-three million refugees, South and Central Asia one-point-eight million and the Americas and the Caribbean at about a half a million so the total is twelve million refugees."
Focusing on Africa Lavinia Limon says the continent is a very difficult place for refugees.
"The principal sources of refugees the last survey showed that Sudan has about six hundred thousand refugees, Congo four hundred and forty thousand, Liberia three hundred and eighty-five, Rwanda three hundred and fifty-five and Angola three hundred and twenty three although that seems to be resolving itself and of course there will being hosted in Kenya and Uganda and Tanzania and the Ivory Coast," he says. "Their neighbors are bearing the burden of this, but clearly refugees are endemic to Africa."
Most of the world's 12 million refugees do not enjoy the rights recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to USCRI's Lavinia Limon. She says millions of refugees currently are being warehoused.
"By that term we need people who have been denied their rights specified in the 1951 U-N convention on the rights of refugees and those rights include the rights to work, the right to own property, the right to intellectual property, the right to attend elementary school, the freedom of movement and at least seven million refugees have been denied those rights for ten years or more."
As tragic as things are for refugees around the world, Lavinia Limon says President Bush's proposed budget for fiscal year 2006, is a glimmer of hope. She says it reflects the generosity of the American people and the historic tradition of protecting refugees.
"We are very pleased with the budget of the president. He is requesting eight hundred and ninety-three million dollars for overseas refugee assistance. It is about one hundred and twenty-nine million more than what we are spending this year. Also he requested five hundred and fifty million for refugee resettlement domestically and that also is a slight increase so we are pleased," he says. "Now we understand we have been working very hard to educate this administration around refugees and that became particularly difficult after nine-eleven as you might image. The refugee program essentially ground to a halt in terms of refugee admissions to the United States," he adds. "It has taken these past three years to do this education and get people to see where assisting refugees is really quite central to the values America holds dear and when the president speaks about extending freedom throughout the world we hope that he and his budget would reflect it, that he would see freedom for refugees as something we could actually make happen."
Furthermore, Lavinia Limon President and CEO of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants says the United States which is the world's largest donor of refugee assistance can lead the way toward changing donor practices, which currently focus on camps and basic assistance.
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