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Refugee Resettlement in the US - 2002-04-18

English Feature #7-3 Broadcast August 14, 2000

Some 73 thousand refugees from various troubled spots around the world are expected to arrive in the United States this year. Today on New American Voices we'll talk about the refugee resettlement program, and about the agencies and people that help refugees begin new lives in this country.

The person who has overall responsibility for the refugee resettlement program of the U.S. government is Julia Vadala Taft, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration. Mrs. Taft says that there's an annual review to decide from which countries refugees will be accepted.

"Every year there's a process where we consult with our embassies and consult with the non-governmental organizations to identify particular groups of interest to the United States and prepare for the President a geographic array of countries and situations which are producing refugees that should be considered. And we also include the number of refugees that we can budget to bring into the United States. This then goes to Congress, and the Secretary of State or the Attorney General every year meets with Congress - the appropriate committees - to discuss the numbers and the nationalities, and then we implement the program."

Last year, the largest number of refugees admitted to the United States - almost 23 thousand - came from Bosnia, followed by refugees from the countries of the former Soviet Union. Also high on the list were Somalia, Vietnam, Liberia, Sudan and Cuba. The refugee resettlement program is flexible enough, says Mrs. Taft, to make adjustments for unforeseen circumstances.

"We were able to very flexibly open up our program virtually overnight for Kosovars that were stranded in Macedonia. This was part of an international program to provide humanitarian evacuation."

A variety of international organizations, foremost among them the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as well as U.S. government agencies and non-governmental organizations, help in the processing of refugees before they come to the United States. But the key role belongs to Julia Taft's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

"We're the orchestra director. We have to make sure that there's money, we have to make sure that there's good communication of those that identify cases and process them and present them to the INS, we then organize with the international organization for migration health screening - every refugee has to be health screened before they come in - and we work very closely with the ten resettlement agencies in the United States that are allocated the cases and sponsor the refugees."

One of these ten voluntary agencies is the Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services. It is the only state agency officially working with the Department of State to help refugees find a new home in the United States. Iowa has sought newcomers for permanent resettlement since the influx of Vietnamese refugees to this country in the mid-seventies. In the last four-to-five years the largest number of refugees going to Iowa have been Bosnians. The Director of Iowa's Bureau of Refugee Services, Wayne Johnson, says there are two categories of refugees.

"There are two different kinds of refugees that arrive. One is what we call a free case, and that is a refugee who has no relatives and no connection to anyone in the state. The other is a family reunification case, and that is a refugee who is coming to join a relative who is already here."

Although funding is provided by the Bureau of Refugee Services, the refugee needs a sponsor who will take charge of all the details of resettlement.

"If it's a free case, then we try to go out and look for a church, a civic group, a group of concerned Americans or others to try to act as sponsor for the family. If it's a family reunification case, then we notify the relatives here and most often, unless they're new arrivals themselves, they act as a sponsor."

What happens next? Next week in this program Wayne Johnson will describe the services that are provided by the sponsors and the Bureau of Refugee Services to help new refugees settle in Iowa.