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The Refugee Influx - Who Is A Refugee?, How Many Are Admitted?, Gaining Entry Into The United States, East Asian Refugees

unhcr countries asylum seekers

Refugees are people, not statistics and global trends. Their protection is a humanitarian necessity, not a political choice.

—Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in a speech before the 55th annual session of the UNHCR Executive Committee, Geneva, Switzerland, October 7, 2004

Every year millions of people around the world are displaced by war, famine, civil unrest, and political unrest. Others are forced to flee their countries in order escape the risk of death and torture at the hands of persecutors. Generally, refugees are people who have been persecuted in their homeland, or have a well-founded fear of persecution there, on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

The United States has worked with other governmental, international, and private organizations to provide food, health care, and shelter to millions of refugees throughout the world. Resettlement in another country, including the United States, is considered for refugees in urgent need of protection, refugees for whom other long-term solutions were not feasible, and refugees able to join close family members. The United States gives priority to the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homelands. This policy, recognized in the Refugee Act of 1980, is also the preference of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). If repatriation is not feasible, refugees can be resettled in countries within their geographic region or in more distant countries, such as the United States.

In 2003 the UNHCR referred refugees to twenty-four countries for resettlement. Table 4.1 lists several of those countries and the number of refugees they accepted. The UNHCR noted that the European Union had recently endorsed a plan in support of refugee resettlement that could generate additional interest in participation by European countries.

In March 2005 the UNHCR announced that the number of asylum seekers (includes refugees and asylees in U.S. terms) arriving in industrialized countries fell sharply for the third year in a row, to the lowest level in sixteen years. (See Figure 4.1.) According to the UNHCR (UNHCR: Asylum Claims Fall to Lowest Level since 1988, Geneva, Switzerland, March 1, 2004), France became the top receiving country with an estimated 61,600 asylum seekers in 2004, followed by the United States (52,400), the United Kingdom (40,200), Germany (35,600), and Canada (25,500). Leading countries of origin for asylum seekers were the Russian Federation, Serbia and Montenegro, and China. (See Figure 4.2.) The UNHCR noted that asylum seekers from Afghanistan had dropped 82% since 2001, and Iraqi asylum seekers had declined 80% since 2002. (See Figure 4.3.)

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