[PEN-L:4731] Saving lives in Kosovo

Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Fri Apr 2 07:13:36 PST 1999

rc-am wrote:

>it is not a joke to focus on the contradictions of NATO countries and
>those who now use the refugees as little more than ammunition for
>escalating this war.

from today's Wall Street Journal...



Wall Street Journal - April 2, 1999

U.S. Quotas, Restrictions Are Obstacle for Kosovar Refugees


WASHINGTON -- While much of the world is focused on the hundreds of thousands of Kosovo Albanians fleeing the war-torn Serbian province, there's a certain incongruity to the crisis not lost on refugee-resettlement agencies in the U.S. While the U.S. is leading the humanitarian effort to aide the refugees, it has steadily reduced the number of refugees from around the world that it will accept.

Under the Clinton administration, the ceiling for annual refugee admissions has declined by 40% since 1992, when 132,000 refugees were allowed in. This year, the ceiling is 78,000.

Setting a Bad Example

Several resettlement organizations say the reduction sets a bad example, because many countries often follow the U.S.'s lead in providing haven for refugees. "It reflects an erosion of the U.S.'s historic status as a world leader in advocating the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees," said Leonard S. Glickman, executive vice president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. The group, the nation's oldest international migration and refugee-resettlement agency, will resettle about 2,000 Bosnian refugees this year.

Last January, the agency and other leading refugee and immigrant organizations, called on the administration to raise the admissions ceiling. The administration did so -- slightly. The limit went to 78,000 in fiscal 1999 from 76,554 in fiscal 1998; 25,000 of those slots are for refugees from the former Yugoslavia. The administration has proposed lifting the ceiling next year to 80,000. While the refugee organizations were encouraged, they want the ceiling raised to 119,000.

The State Department, the principal coordinator of refugee-resettlement programs, insists that the U.S. hasn't turned its back on refugees. They note that about 2.3 million refugees have been resettled here since 1975, the largest groups from Vietnam and the former Soviet Union.

"The U.S. has always been and still is by far the world leader in resettlement of refugees," said David Robinson, deputy director of refugee admissions at the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. Indeed, each year more refugees are resettled in the U.S. than in all other countries combined. "Our ceiling responds to our perceived needs," Mr. Robinson said. "It's an educated guess of what we effectively respond to overseas."

A Complicated Issue

William Hyde, program development officer for the International Organization on Migration, an intergovernmental agency, said the decision to grant groups permanent refugee status or give individuals asylum is complicated: Countries have broken up, and others are in constant political transition.

"So much is being reevaluated at the end of the century in terms of what's the proper thing to do," he said.

What has changed from a policy standpoint, Mr. Robinson said, is the U.S.'s desire to develop a program that is responsive to the "most vulnerable" refugees. There is also greater emphasis on resolving the crisis that forces people to flee their homes.

So far there are no official plans to bring Kosovo refugees here. "It's just too soon at the moment," Mr. Robinson said. The U.S. humanitarian effort is concentrating on helping neighboring countries receive the refugees and ensuring they have food and shelter.

The U.S. has committed $91 million for aid since the Kosovo crisis began in early 1998 and is working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the lead agency for the region, and other relief organizations. Thursday, the U.S. announced it would contribute $8.5 million to U.N. relief efforts.

Last June, Attorney General Janet Reno granted temporary protected status to about 5,000 Kosovars in the U.S. The special status allows the immigrants to seek permanent asylum during the relief period, which expires June 8. Asylum-seekers must be able to prove "a credible and well-founded fear" of persecution in their home country due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

While asylum statistics don't capture applicants' ethnicity, said Barbara Francis, a spokeswoman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, "I know that along the way, some of those granted asylum from Yugoslavia could have been from Kosovo province."

She said the INS has granted asylum to refugees from Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and the former Yugoslavia. Last year, the agency's approval rate for asylum claims was about 23% for all nationalities, she said; for people from the former Yugoslavia, it was 49%.

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