Since 1980, over 191,000 refugees from Near Eastern and South Asian countries have been resettled in the United States. Most have been from Iran (over 80,000), Iraq (over 55,000), or Afghanistan (over 38,000). Currently, among the refugees in the region, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) focuses on Iraqi, Bhutanese, and Iranian refugees for U.S. resettlement consideration. These refugees are often members of religious and ethnic minorities or vulnerable women at risk who have sought temporary asylum in countries in the region. The Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (DHS/USCIS) conducts regular refugee adjudication “circuit rides” to Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Nepal, Turkey and Egypt and, as needed, to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. DHS/USCIS also conducts refugee adjudications from permanent offices in India. Although large-scale repatriation has significantly diminished the pool of Afghans in need of resettlement, UNHCR continues to refer for resettlement those particularly vulnerable Afghans for whom repatriation is not a viable durable solution and expects to increase these referrals out of Pakistan in 2009-2010.
The U.S. has established two overseas processing entities (OPEs) (now called “Resettlement Support Centers (RSCs)”) in the Near East region – in Amman (with sub-offices in Cairo and Damascus and a mobile office that provides rotating coverage to Baghdad) and in Istanbul (with sub-offices in Beirut and Pakistan). A regional Refugee Coordinator posted to U.S. Embassy Amman coordinates admissions from the region, while a Refugee Coordinator posted to U.S. Embassy Baghdad covers in-country processing and Embassy referrals from Iraq. An RSC was established in Nepal in late FY 2007 which currently covers processing in Nepal and Sri Lanka under the guidance of a Refugee Coordinator posted to U.S. Embassy Kathmandu. In FY 2008, 25,148 refugees from the region were admitted to the U.S.
Iraqis. The U.S. program continues to process those Iraqi refugees for whom third-country resettlement is the appropriate durable solution, and has established a mechanism that facilitates access for Iraqis under threat due to their employment and/or association with the U.S. government, among other especially vulnerable categories of Iraqi refugees. In addition, Iraqi beneficiaries of an approved I-130 immigrant visa petition, whether current or non-current, are extended access to a refugee interview. 13,823 Iraqi refugees were admitted to the U.S. in FY 2008.
Bhutanese. The U.S. has determined Bhutanese refugees in Nepal to be a Priority 2 group of special humanitarian concern. 5,320 Bhutanese refugees were admitted to the United States in FY 2008.
Iranians. Members of Iranian religious minorities are identified under the Specter Amendment as persons of special concern to the United States and eligible to apply directly to the U.S. program for refugee processing in Austria. Many Iranians are also referred to the U.S. by UNHCR in Turkey. 5,481 Iranians were admitted to the U.S. as refugees in FY 2008.
Afghans. The U.S. program continues to process Afghan refugees, particularly women-at-risk cases, for whom third-country resettlement is the appropriate durable solution. Processing of vulnerable Afghan refugees in India, Pakistan, Russia and elsewhere is ongoing.
FY 2009 Admissions Program
The regional refugee admissions ceiling for the Near East and South Asia for FY 2009 is 37,000 and primarily focuses on vulnerable Iraqis, Bhutanese, and Iranian religious minorities. The U.S. expects to admit at least 17,000 Iraqis, 12,000 Bhutanese and 5,500 Iranians in FY 2009.