Government persecution, and its most severe form, genocide, is a major violation of individual human rights and group welfare. It is signified by humanitarian crises and population migrations that generally require international collaboration to ameliorate.
It is important to distinguish refugees who cross international borders from internally displaced persons (IDPs) who migrate within their own countries’ boundaries to escape high levels of persecution or other harms, such as civil wars or natural disasters. Worldwide aid agencies, such as the International Red Cross and
The UNHCR was established by the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly in December, 1950, in response to the
During the early 1950’s, U.N. members were highly aware of World War II atrocities, encouraging a treaty focus on nationality, race, religion, and sociopolitical groups, with little attention to gender, sexual orientation, or other human differences that may result in persecution. The 1951 U.N. convention granted rights to refugees and provided them with a process for formalizing new citizenship statuses. However, it applied only to people who had become refugees because of events occurring before 1951. Ongoing wars and humanitarian crises during the 1950’s and 1960’s meant that the original convention needed an extension. For this reason, the 1967
By the early twenty-first century, widespread political and social unrest around the world was placing large numbers of people at risk of harm. A 2005 estimate by the UNHCR suggested that approximately 8.4 million of the estimated 191 million migrants of that year could be considered refugees. In early 2008, the UNHCR stated that 31.7 million people were of concern to the international organization, including 11.4 million refugees, 13.7 million internally displaced people, 3 million
In 2008, the highest number of refugees was from
The United States is one of a group of forty-four countries that provide monthly
Vietnamese refugees lined up for food at the temporary refugee camp at the U.S. Air Force base in Guam in April, 1975. Most of these people were later relocated to the United States.
The United States has not always welcomed asylum seekers. An infamous example was the attempt by the German vessel
Within a few years of passage of the 1975 act, it became apparent to American government employees that it was inefficient for the United States to enact individual pieces of legislation to deal with each humanitarian crisis that arose. It made more sense to devise an overarching law that would always be in place to provide a process for dealing with new crises as they arose, in an efficient and timely manner. For this reason, the
The United States recognizes two types of exile status: refugees and asylees. Refugees receive their designation outside the United States and often reside in refugee camps for many years prior to acceptance by the United States.
Refugees and asylees have come to the United States from around the world. A small number of source countries generally predominate each year, depending on the locations of global trouble spots. In 2008, 90,030 refugees and 76,362 asylees were admitted to the United States as legal permanent residents. They made up 15 percent of the legal permanent residents accepted in that year.
The 2007 data demonstrate that 48,217 refugees and 25,270 asylees were accepted by the United States. The primary donor nation was
Living in the United States can be difficult for refugees. They typically arrive after experiencing considerable hardship in both their home countries and countries in which they have resided while awaiting acceptance into the United States. When they finally reach the United States, they generally have little money, few possessions, and limited understandings of American culture and what they need to know to find homes, food, education, and social services. The support they receive from government and private aid agencies seldom lasts for more than a few months, and within a short period of time, they must find work to support their families. This can be incredibly difficult for individuals who may have spent years living in refugee camp, especially if they possess minimal fluency in English and have limited job skills.
Refugee families often have young children who have received negligible schooling for several years and are consequently completely baffled by what they are expected to do in American schools, often in an unfamiliar language. Refugee families also generally have little understanding of the American legal system, and may unknowingly contravene laws of which they are unaware, such as driving license requirements and child-abuse codes. Parents who were powerful figures in their homelands can easily become marginalized in the United States, where they receive little respect from either Americans or their own offspring.
For all of these reasons, the settlement process can be demoralizing for refugees who have newly arrived in the United States. In fact, some refugees find that life in the United States is so difficult that they choose to return to the dangerous circumstances of their home nations, rather than struggle to rebuild their lives in a culture that is almost completely alien to them. The early twenty-first century saw some highly publicized accounts of
Chang-Muy, Fernando, and Elaine P. Congress, eds. Social Work with Immigrants and Refugees: Legal Issues, Clinical Skills, and Advocacy. New York: Springer, 2009. Excellent resource for understanding a wide range of issues affecting refugees who come to the United States. Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life. 2d ed. New York: HarperCollins, 2002. Excellent history of immigration and refugee law in the United States with very useful supporting data. Freedman, Jane. Gendering the International Asylum and Refugee Debate. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Examination of women’s experiences, focusing on differences between men’s and women’s refugee pathways. Goździak, Elżbieta, and Micah N. Bump. New Immigrants, Changing Communities: Best Practices for a Better America. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2008. Practical consideration of the kinds of issues that refugees face after they arrive in the United States. Hollenbach, David, ed. Refugee Rights: Ethics, Advocacy, and Africa. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2008. Collection of essays on African refugees and the challenging conditions that they face in refugee camps. Loescher, Gil, Alexander Betts, and James Milner. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): The Politics and Practice of Refugee Protection into the Twenty-first Century. New York: Routledge, 2008. Broad coverage of refugee issues, including the history of international collaboration, and refugee conventions. McKay, Sonia, ed. Refugees, Recent Migrants and Employment: Challenging Barriers and Exploring Pathways. New York: Routledge, 2008. Edited collection of recent research on a wide variety of aspects of refugee issues. Pipher, Mary. The Middle of Everywhere: The World’s Refugees Come to Our Town. New York: Harcourt, 2002. Empathetic narration of American refugee stories.
Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S.
Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975
Refugee Relief Act of 1953