U.S. refugee admissions are down about 25 percent from 2010 due to delays related to new U.S. Homeland Security checks introduced in February of this year.

Church World Service resettled 5,318 refugees during the 2011 fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2010-Sept. 30, 2011), down from 7,055 in FY 2010.

The total resettlements of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program ― representing all program-sanctioned agencies ―  numbered 56,424, down from 74,654 in FY 2010. 

The 56,424 includes 6,387 African refugees successfully processed for resettlement by the CWS-administered Resettlement Support Center based in Nairobi, Kenya.

“The refugees we resettled will have a chance at life. We can be proud of that,” said Erol Kekic, director of the Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program.

But he said he regrets the potential danger to refugees whose departures for the United States have been ― and are being ― delayed due to the increased complication of an already complex process of interrelated interviews and screenings.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 15.4 million refugees and people in refugee-like situations throughout the world in need of protection and assistance. 

Of those, UNHCR estimates 805,500 are in urgent need of resettlement.  But in 2010, resettlement countries (currently numbering 25, with the United States being the most generous) provided fewer than 80,000 places for UNHCR resettlement submissions.

Most refugees referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program are UNHCR referrals. Close family members of refugees and asylees who have already resettled to the United States also may be considered, on a limited basis. 

All candidates face a long series of interviews, screenings and security checks, many of which have limited validity.  If one check expires before all steps in the process are completed, it must be repeated, causing delay in the refugee’s approval for departure.

“All the steps are important,” Kekic said. “We understand and support the need to protect the U.S. national security and to prevent fraud. We don’t want the few who would abuse the resettlement program to endanger it for the large numbers of refugees who need this durable solution to their plight. So we appreciate the need for the new security checks. 

“But we were prepared to receive as many as 80,000 refugees nationally during FY 2011, as many as 8,000 of those through Church World Service. Every slot we don’t fill is potentially a life lost,” he continued. “Already vulnerable refugees’ security is further endangered as they spend even more time in camps waiting to depart.  And those with spouses, parents or children already in the United States suffer from the prolonged separation.

“Furthermore, resettlement is a strategic albeit tiny part of the solution in complex emergencies like that today in the Horn of Africa, where drought and famine are adding misery to that caused by a long-standing political crisis. The fewer refugees we are able to resettle from the region, the less of a ‘pressure valve’ for camps receiving as many as 1,500 new residents every day,” he said.

Government and voluntary partners in the U.S. Refugee Program have been working since February to remedy the unintended consequences of the new security checks. 

“We hope for a resolution so that in the coming year, the United States can live up to its humanitarian and protection mandate,” Kekic said. “U.S. refugee admissions increased measurably over the summer, and we expect admissions will be stronger in FY 2012. For 65 years, the United States and its people have opened their hearts and homes to refugees. That welcome is still available.”

The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is proposing a 76,000 ceiling for refugee admissions for FY 2012 (Oct. 1, 2011-Sept. 30, 2012), including up to 12,000 out of Africa whose cases would be processed by the CWS Resettlement Support Center.

Refugees from Burma, Bhutan, Iraq top CWS caseload

As for the past two years, the top nationalities of refugees Church World Service resettled to the United States in FY 2011 were Karen and Chin from Burma, Nepalis from Bhutan, and Iraqis.

The CWS total of 5,318 includes 64 Iraqis with Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs).  The top 10 nationalities CWS resettled in FY 2011 were:

1.      Karen (1,257) and Chin (787) from Burma (2,044 total).
2.      Nepalis from Bhutan (1,636).
3.      Iraqis (818, including 64 SIVs).
4.      Cubans (184).
5.      Somalis (130).
6.      Eritreans (120).
7.      Iranians (66).
8.      Ethiopians (55).
9.      Congolese (55).
10.    Afghans (32).

CWS also resettled smaller numbers from each of 17 other nationalities.

CWS resettles refugees through a network of 35 offices and affiliates in 21 states, with support and participation from seven U.S. denominations/communions.  Those affiliates receiving the most refugees for resettlement from CWS in FY 2011 were:

1.      Lancaster, Pa. ― 321
2.      Indianapolis, Ind. ― 316
3.      Columbus, Ohio ― 309
4.      Decatur, Ga. ― 284
5.      Phoenix, Ariz. ― 268
6.      Denver, Colo. ― 257
7.      Rochester, N.Y. ― 228
8.      Grand Rapids, Mich. ― 225
9.      Syracuse, N.Y. ― 209
10.    Minneapolis, Minn. ― 196