May 15, 2013

CWS Statement for Meeting on the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program

CWS Immigration and Refugee Resettlement Program Director Erol Kekic attended a US Department of State/Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Public Meeting on the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program Wednesday, May 15 in Washington, DC.  Here is the statement Kekic read,noting U.S. leadership in protecting, assisting and resettling refugees fleeing persecution and looking for safe haven here, and pledging continued CWS support for those efforts:

I submit this statement on behalf of Church World Service (CWS), a 67-year-old faith-based humanitarian organization, representing 37 Christian communions in the United States. CWS works to assist refugees and internally displaced persons through a broad range of programs – from conducting interviews with refugee candidates for U.S. resettlement throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, to providing resettlement services alongside our 36 affiliates and local offices to help refugees adjust to their new lives and integrate in the United States. CWS and its partners assist refugees, asylum seekers, and returnees in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan, South Africa and Thailand to access protection and essential services.

Millions of refugees around the world are forced to flee their homes due to persecution. Once they cross a border to seek safety, refugees have three options: return to their home country, integrate in the country to which they first fled, or be resettled to a third country. Many are unable to return home and face significant threats to their safety, health and dignity in the country to which they first fled. For these men, women and children, resettlement is key to ensuring protection and ending their state of limbo. Less than one percent of the world’s estimated 14 million refugees ever receive an opportunity to be resettled in a third country. Resettlement is still an important tool of protection for highly vulnerable refugees, and also helps encourage other countries to take steps toward durable solutions for refugees within their borders, including opportunities for local integration.

The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is a lifesaving, humanitarian, public-private partnership that helps rescue refugees who have no other means of returning to their home countries or seeking safety elsewhere. The U.S. has a long history of providing protection and assistance to persons fleeing persecution and violence, and is a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. U.S. communities, schools, congregations, and employers welcome refugees and help them integrate in their new homes. In turn, refugees bring their innovative skills, diverse cultures, dedicated work, and other positive contributions to their new communities, enhancing the quality of life for all parties. Refugee resettlement showcases the best virtues of the United States – community, opportunity, hard work, diversity, caring for one another, and courage to start a new life.

Refugees undergo thorough and rigorous security screenings prior to arriving to the United States, including health screenings, biographic and biometric investigations using multiple databases, in-depth, in-person interviews by well-trained Department of Homeland Security officers, and other checks by U.S. domestic and international intelligence agencies. Security measures are intrinsic to the integrity of the refugee and asylum programs and we support steps taken over the last few years by the U.S. government to strengthen and enhance the security check process.

The U.S. government has been and needs to continue to be a leader when it comes to refugee protection. It is our hope that the U.S. government will continue to work with other governments and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to promote resettlement in a collaborative and coordinated manner, allowing for a larger number of refugees in need to get another chance at life. We urge the U.S. government to continue to actively engage with The Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement (ATCR) and other mechanisms to promote the utilization of resettlement globally.

CWS continues to advocate for increased protection and resettlement opportunities for specific refugee populations who face grave threats and lack opportunities for other durable solutions. Towards this end, CWS applauds the U.S. commitment to increasing the protection and resettlement of Congolese refugees, including those living in Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and Tanzania, and encourages the State Department and UNHCR to ensure this commitment is fully implemented, and that resettlement for vulnerable Congolese refugees is also pursued in southern Africa. CWS also encourages that adequate resources, such as those needed to conduct Best Interest Determinations, are made available for the processing of refugee minor applicants, including Eritrean minors in Ethiopia's Mai Aini camp and Congolese minors throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

We thank the State Department, Department of Homeland Security, and Office of Refugee Resettlement for their attention to and care of the U.S. Refugee Program, and look forward to being helpful partners in protecting, assisting, and resettling refugees fleeing persecution. Sincerely, Erol Kekic, Director CWS Immigration and Refugee Program

Full Statement (pdf)