The United States is the single largest donor country to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and has the world's largest refugee resettlement program. VOA's Cindy Saine reports on the State Department's efforts to help millions of displaced persons and victims of armed conflicts.
The United States has admitted more than 2.6 million refugees as part of its resettlement program since 1975. First, refugees are identified, their cases are judged individually, based on past persecution or justified fear of persecution, and if they are accepted, they are brought to the United States to live, and given integration assistance.
This year, the State Department says it is expecting up to 13,000 refugees from East Africa to arrive in the United States, mainly from Burundi and Ethiopia, as well as Burundians living in Tanzania. The State Department says thousands of applications are coming in from Vietnam, and it hopes to admit ethnic Karen refugees from Burma.
A senior State Department official for refugees, Kelly Ryan, said there is positive news on refugees from Iran. "And, we are pleased that the number of applicants from Iran has more than doubled in the past year, from 2,000 to 4,000," said Kelly Ryan. "These are ethnic - religious and ethnic minorities from Iran that will be coming to the United States, when they are approved."
The United States has admitted the first six refugees from North Korea, who are now living in New Jersey. Ryan said the State Department has the authority to accept more refugees from North Korea, but it is a question of access.
Ryan said one problem facing the U.S. resettlement program is money:
"The president authorized us to admit up to 70,000 refugees this year," she said. "Unfortunately, we were funded for only 54,000."
The United States works closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which operates in 117 countries. A UNHCR representative praised U.S. efforts, saying the United States resettles more refugees each year than all other countries combined. U.N. representative Wendy Young said it is important for everyone to view refugees, not just as victims, but to value their human capacity.
"Refugees are, in many ways, just like the rest of us," said Wendy Young. "They hope for peace and prosperity, to be able to provide for their families, to send their children to school, and to live their lives in dignity and safety."
Young said the good news is that the number of refugees worldwide decreased to 8.4 million in 2005. But she said the bad news is that the number of internally displaced people - people forced to leave their homes who have not crossed a border - has increased dramatically.