Providing refuge

February 17, 2005

THE BUSH administration's plan to allow more refugees into the country next year and increase spending on refugee assistance programs is both welcome and timely, coming as it does when trouble spots around the world are creating new refugees daily.

Loosening the refugee spigot that was severely tightened after the 9/11 terrorist attacks could ease the backup of those already approved to come here and help reverse widespread perceptions overseas that the United States is no longer a haven for people fleeing wars and oppression.

President Bush's budget request for $893 million for refugee assistance overseas and admission costs here is about $129 million more than this year's appropriation and is a good way to blunt such views. Additionally, $552 million requested for refugee resettlement and integration programs will shore up domestic refugee assistance organizations that scaled back or shut down their operations over the past few years.

Still, allowing in 20,000 more refugees this year will only bring the total admissions back to pre-9/11 levels of just over 70,000 annually. Meanwhile, 7 million refugees worldwide have languished in crowded and dangerous camps that barely meet their most basic human needs - some for years. The United States spends less than $1 million annually on programs that could encourage host countries to educate them, allow them to work, and provide other basic human rights guaranteed under international treaties.

The funding increases are a very good start, but clearly more needs to be done on behalf of refugees - not just for their sake, but for the reputation of the United States.

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