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US Senate Panel Reviews Refugee Policy - 2004-09-22

U.S. officials say the United States remains committed to its refugee resettlement policy, even though the costs of screening and processing refugees have increased in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

At a hearing of the Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship Subcommittee Tuesday, the chairman, Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss, touted the role the United States has played in refugee resettlement.

"The United States has long been a world leader in providing resettlement to refugees around the world," he said. "In fact, it is U.S. policy to admit half the refugees identified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees each year."

Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, Gene Dewey, says the United States is admitting a much larger number of refugees this budget year, which ends the last day of this month.

"At days end today, we will have admitted 48,000 refugees in this fiscal year," he said. "Confirmed seats on aircraft will bring the total up to 52,000-refugee admissions by September 30. This is an increase of 80 percent over our total last year.

Many of those refugees are from Africa, according to Eduardo Aguirre, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at the Department of Homeland Security.

"While 10 years ago, fewer than six-thousand African refugees were admitted to the United States, this year more than 28-thousand Africa refugees will be admitted," he said. "Our officers conducted eligibility interviews in 18 different Africa countries, often processing in remote and difficult locations."

Mr. Aguirre says accepting more refugees has not reduced the costs to the United States of processing each refugee. He says increased security screenings of refugees following the September 11th attacks has hiked the costs of the program.

Mr. Aguirre says new officers have been hired at his agency to conduct security screenings. "Our efforts to verify claim family relationships of all applicants are continuing, and have resulted in the identification of numerous cases involving identity fraud and relationship misrepresentation," he said.

Mr. Aguirre says before the 2001 attacks, the cost per refugee admitted to the United States was about $2,200 dollars. This year it is $3,500. Besides processing and security screening, the money pays the refugee's transportation to the United States and the expenses of the non-government organizations that sponsor the refugee for the first 90 days in this country.

But despite the added costs and efforts to process and screen applicants, Mr. Aguirre says the United States does not plan to reduce the number of refugees it admits.

He said this country is working with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to increase the number of countries involved in resettling refugees. He said the rest of the world takes less than half the number of refugees as the United States. Over the past twelve months, other nations accepted a total of 25,000 refugees.

Lavinia Limon, executive director of the United States Committee for Refugees, agrees that the world should do more for refugees. One of her priorities is improving the plight of refugees.

"They live lives of hopeless dependency, dangerous insecurity and endless despair," he said. "The U.S. Committee for Refugees recommends a renewed commitment to ensure that refugees are free to exercise their rights in the absence of a durable solution as specified in international law. These rights include the right to work, freedom of movement, the right to own property, basic education, among others."

Ms. Limon says resettlement has been available to only one percent of the world's refugees, estimated to number seven million.