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US Refugee Group Gives Mixed Grades to Countries Hosting Refugees

A private Washington-based refugee organization says there are more than 11 million refugees and more than 21 million internally displaced people worldwide. The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants issued its annual report this week, calling for host countries to improve their treatment of these people.

This year's survey shows a slight decline in the number of refugees and displaced persons worldwide, but the report's editors say their treatment is still far from acceptable.

The organization specifically criticizes governments for what it calls the "warehousing" of refugees, which it defines as depriving them of their basic rights under the 1951 U.N. Convention on Refugees. Those rights include freedom of movement, to earn a livelihood, and to not be forcibly repatriated.

"Warehousing is illegal and immoral. Illegal under international law, and if you've spent more than five minutes in a refugee camp or speaking to refugees, you clearly know it's immoral. This is not the way to treat human beings," said Lavinia Limon, the president of the Committee on Refugees and Immigrants.

She says the annual survey graded nations on an A to F scale based on their treatment of refugees, with "A" being the best and "F" the worst. Countries that received a C, D or F were considered to have warehousing practices.

The survey found that widespread warehousing affected more than seven million refugees worldwide and their circumstances lasted longer.

Although the United States is big contributor to refugee assistance worldwide, it was still the recipient of some harsh criticism in the report. The U.S. government received mixed reviews for its forcible repatriation of Cuban and Haitian asylum or refugee seekers. This practice is known as refoulement.

Greg Chen, the Committee's Director of Policy Analysis and Research said the United States received a poor score for its detention practices concerning thousands of asylum seekers, but he said the U.S. also earned a high mark for protecting refugees.

"But on the other hand, in the United States, the practice of granting refugees broad rights in the freedom of movement and the right to earn a livelihood, once refugees are recognized and once an asylum seeker receives asylum status, the U.S. received "A"s in both these categories, showing its continuing leadership in this area of protecting refugees," said Mr. Chen.

Bill Strassberger, a spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agreed.

"The United States is the leader for providing protection to people who've had to flee their country,” he added. “No one wants to flee their country. But the US is there with a welcome door to refugees who've had to come here and get that protection."

In Africa, Tanzania received poor scores for its treatment of some 600-thousand refugees from Burundi and Congo, but Mr. Chen singled-out the Central African nation of Chad as a bright spot, for its treatment of refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan.

"There have been large numbers of Sudanese refugees fleeing into Chad and they continue to do so. In 2004, over 130,000 Sudanese refugees fled into Chad. Chad kept its borders open, by and large, and it allowed refugees the freedom of movement and the right to earn a livelihood," he noted.

In Asia, China received generally poor marks and was criticized for its double standards.

"China gives broad rights to over 200,000 refugees from Indo-China, but treats North Koreans terribly, horribly. And has refouled thousands of North Koreans, has detained them, and does not allow them to work, earn a livelihood or the freedom of movement," explained Mr. Chen.

In the Middle East, Israel got an "F" for strictly controlling and curtailing the movement of Palestinians. While Iran, which is host to more than one million mostly Afghan refugees, also got an "F" for acknowledging the deportation of 140,000 Afghans, including some with refugee status.

The European Union received strong grades for allowing refugees freedom to move and work, but Italy was criticized for deporting more than one thousand Libyan asylum seekers in October.

Ms. Limon said the report was obviously critical of the way governments treat refugees, but she acknowledged that these same governments are hosting refugees.

"And we appreciate that hosting, it's terribly important. Governments like Thailand and Tanzania and Syria and Chad, have hosted refugees for decades. They've had refugees unlike in numbers that the West, that the U.S., the EU, Canada and Australia have never experienced," she noted.

But she says when you allow a guest into your home, you don't mistreat them, and the law very clearly spells out how refugees should be treated and that the world must be held to that standard.