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Frequently Asked Questions about Refugee Resettlement
Who are refugees and displaced persons?
Unlike migrants who make a conscious decision to leave their country of origin in search of a better life, refugees are forced to flee their homes and seek safety in another country, oftentimes without warning.
The United Nations defines a refugee as a person who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country..."
The United States will not recognize persons who have participated in war crimes and violations of humanitarian and human rights law, including the crime of terrorism, as refugees. They are specifically excluded from the protection accorded to refugees.
Right now there are more than 60 million forcibly displaced people in the world, according to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR. Half of all refugees are children.
What happens to people after they leave their country?
Typically refugees flee to a country which is adjacent to their own. Initially refugees congregate in makeshift camps which spring up close to the border. Countries may be challenged to provide services (water, waste disposal, etc) or aid (food, medical attention) to the people living in these places. Agencies like Catholic Relief Services can provide assistance. Many displaced persons return to their country of origin when they determine it is safe enough for them to do so. Some construct new lives for themselves in this country of first refuge, providing that this country invites them to stay. When it is not safe for a person to return home, nor is it safe for them to remain in the country in which they sought refuge, then resettlement to a third country is considered. Very few refugees, around 1%, are ever even considered for resettlement.
How does the U.S. determine if a refugee is eligible for resettlement?
Applicants for refugee admission to the U.S. must satisfy the following criteria:
Although a refugee may meet the above criteria, the existence of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program does not create any entitlement for that person to be admitted to the U.S.
How many refugees does the U.S. accept for resettlement?
The United States accepts a limited number of refugees each year. The President in consultation with Congress determines the authorized target for refugee admissions through a Presidential Determination. The number for fiscal year 2016-2017 is 110,000. The number is further subdivided into 40,000 refugees from the Near East-South Asia, 35,000 from Africa and 14,000 from other countries.
Catholic Charities proposed to resettle refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo because there is a large Congolese population currently present in Lexington.
How do refugees make it to the United States?
The Department of State's Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) oversees the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program through U.S. embassies worldwide. The State Department develops application criteria and refugee admission levels and presents eligible cases for adjudication by officers of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
USCIS officers travel to the country of asylum to interview refugees who fall within the priorities established for the relevant nationality or region. A refugee of any nationality may be referred by UNHCR, however this does not guarantee admission to the U.S., for they must still qualify under U.S. law. The State Department estimates that the screening process can take 18-24 months.
Upon completion of security and medical screening, the USCIS officer may approve the refugee's application for U.S. resettlement. After approval, arrangements are made for his/her placement with a U.S. voluntary agency and travel to the U.S. The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops’ Office of Resettlement Services resettles 30% of the individuals coming into the country each year, partnering with over 100 diocesan offices nationwide.
What happens to refugees when they come to the United States?
Refugees must rebuild their lives from traumatic and tragic circumstances. The majority embrace their newly adopted homeland with tremendous energy and success. They go on to work, attend universities, build professions, purchase homes, raise children and contribute to their communities. Ultimately refugees obtain citizenship and become fully participating members of society.
Many refugees come to the United States without any possessions and without knowing anyone. Other refugees come here to be reunited with family members. All refugees receive limited assistance from the U.S. government and non-profit organizations like Catholic Charities to obtain housing, learn about life and customs in America, secure jobs, learn English, and become citizens. Resettlement agencies, located in welcoming communities partner with parishes and other religious denominations, are instrumental to helping families to restart their lives in our country, helping refugees overcome cultural barriers so that their adjustment is as easy as possible.
What benefits do refugees receive?
The circumstances under which refugees leave their country are different from those of other immigrants. Often they flee persecution leaving behind personal possessions without preparing themselves for life in a new culture. Recognizing this fact, the federal government provides transitional resettlement assistance to newly arrived refugees. Resettlement agencies contract with the Department of State to provide for refugee's food, housing, employment, medical care, counseling and other services for the first 90 days of their residency to help the refugee make a rapid transition to economic self-sufficiency.