Vol. 45, No. 9
Refugees enjoy a special status thanks to the United States Refugee Act of 1980. The United States incorporated the guidelines put forth by the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, adopted in Geneva in 1951. A refugee is defined as a person who "owing to 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 avail himself of the protection of that country."
The vast majority of the world’s estimated 14.1 million refugees are from the developing world, according to the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) in Washington, D.C. More than 85,000 refugees were admitted into the United States in 1999, and the country currently hosts an estimated 638,000 refugees, according to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Refugees make their homes in every U.S. state.
The U.S. State Department has devised a list of 25 nations from which citizens have a compelling need for protection. They range from Cuba to Iraq, Rwanda to Vietnam, the former Soviet Union to Chad. The list of qualifying nations changes as country conditions change. The greatest number of refugees admitted into the United States in 1999 came from Bosnia, the former Soviet Union, Kosovo and Vietnam, according to USCR. Refugee status, however, is not limited to people fleeing the countries flagged by the State Department.
For more information on refugees, contact the Immigration and Refugee Services of America at (202) 797-2105, the U.S. Committee for Refugees at (202) 347-3507, the INS at (202) 514-4314 and Refugees International at (800) REFUGEES.