The number of refugees resettled in the United States topped three million on February 15. The resettlement program continues to offer life-changing and life-saving support for refugees who have been in camps or urban locations for many years. Equally important, it serves many more refugees by preserving and expanding the humanitarian space in countries of first asylum. We have seen this vividly in the past during the Kosovo crisis, and more recently in Libya.
The 1980s saw primarily refugees resettling in the U.S. from Vietnam, Laos, and the Soviet Union. The 1990s brought large numbers of Bosnians as war engulfed the former Yugoslavia. In the 21st century, we welcomed refugees from Burma, Bhutan, Iran, Iraq and Somalia, among others, reflecting a more diverse and expansive
program. Last year we processed refugees from 69 different countries in 92 locations.
A few statistical highlights since 1975:
· Over 1.4 million refugees from South East Asian countries
· Over 605,000 from countries of the Former Soviet Union
· Over 262,000 Africans
· Over 289,000 from the countries of Near East and South Asia
· The five largest nationalities resettled are Vietnamese, Ukrainian, Iraqi, Cuban, and Somali
· The five states that have resettled the most refugees, in descending order, are California, New York, Texas, Washington, and Florida
I recently traveled to Tennessee, where I saw the strengths of the refugee admissions program in action. While the Departments of State and Health and Human Services offer initial support to refugees in the U.S., the program is designed to encourage refugees to become self-sufficient as quickly as possible. But it’s the welcoming help of local communities that is the linchpin of the program’s success. Volunteers and other community members help refugees adjust to the world around them, get settled, and integrate themselves.
We understand that the current economic situation is challenging the ability of federal, state, and non-profit agencies to broadly assist refugees in need. In response, in 2010, the Deptartment of State doubled the per-refugee stipend, and raised it again this year. The refugee admissions program is a public-private partnership. As such, non-profit agencies involved have also increased efforts to raise private resources to support refugees in need. And some businesses are stepping in to assist as well.
In Tennessee, I heard firsthand the commitment of businesses to making refugee resettlement successful. Tyson Foods support to refugees is remarkable: $100,000 per year for on-site ESL, $3,500 per year for college costs, 100% reimbursement for naturalization applications, full-time interpreters on site, financial assistance, on-site banking, and tax preparation services, all of which demonstrate why the company had only a 12.5% turnover last year and has proven to be such a strong example of leadership in integrating refugees, not just into their new community, but into the wider U.S. economy.
The Nashville mayor, police chief, and director of the mayor’s office of neighborhoods were enthusiastic about the diversity in Nashville, the civic contributions of refugees, and the collegial working relationships of service providers.
I know that many other communities around the country can point to similar experiences. In the end, all Americans benefit from our nation’s open doors – the refugees, those whose lives they touch, and the communities strengthened by their contributions.
We expect the future of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program to remain strong and responsive. We will continue to partner with UNHCR to provide resettlement opportunities here in the United States – and to encourage other countries to open their doors generously as well.
As we celebrate this major milestone, we would like to thank all of you for your continued commitment to the program.
David M. Robinson
Acting Assistant Secretary
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration