MOSCOW — Armenian emigration from the Soviet Union to the United States remains largely at a standstill, despite promises by the Reagan Administration to resume issuing visas to hundreds of families that had been told they could leave this month and next.
U.S. Embassy officials said Thursday they are still waiting for the State Department and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to agree on procedures through which relatives of the families or Armenian organizations in the United States could finance the resettlement.
"We are still stalled," one embassy official said. "We have issued visas to more than 400 people whose departures were held up, but we have at least 3,000 others waiting, many in circumstances that we know are quite difficult."
He said that more than two-thirds of those waiting for visas plan to settle in Southern California.
Unexpectedly Large Number
In early July, the embassy stopped issuing refugee visas to Soviet citizens, most of them Armenians, seeking to emigrate to the United States. The State Department, it said, had run out of funds for their resettlement because of the unexpectedly large number of Armenians being granted Soviet permission to leave.
The action left hundreds of families, many of them living in cramped rooms with small children, caught between the Soviet and U.S. bureaucracies, each as apparently unyielding as the other.
Because they were told by the embassy that they would be leaving shortly, the Armenians had left their jobs, given up their apartments, sold most of their possessions and come to Moscow to collect their visas, tickets and other documents.
"Suddenly, boom, the American government tells us we can't go, at least not until October or November, because it has no more money," said Manoug Kazandjian, 48, a former school administrator who had expected to leave three weeks ago to join his brother in Los Angeles, but who now spends his days on the sidewalk outside the embassy waiting for news.
10 Crowded in Room
"So here I am with 10 people, including three young children, living in a rented room in conditions that are indescribable," he added. ". . . And for us the question is not money--we have rubles here, and our family has dollars in America--but of red tape, of bureaucracy and of deceit, too, in telling us to come and then saying, 'No, sorry, not yet.' "
Once they have their Soviet passports and exit visas, they effectively lose their normal social rights--employment, housing, medical care, schooling--and are viewed as a U.S. responsibility.
In mid-July, the embassy announced that 430 people, those who had been scheduled to leave Moscow in the first week of July, would be given visas. Alternative programs would be worked out to permit as many of the others as possible to leave as refugees, but with private, rather than government, financing, the embassy said.
"The State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service are trying to put together a procedure for purchasing tickets for these people and ensuring that they have adequate support in the U.S.," an embassy officer said. "Unfortunately, this has taken much more time than we expected.
"We know that many of these people are in a very difficult situation and are naturally angry and bitter and feel a bit betrayed, but without funds, without authorization from Washington, we can do nothing for them. The problem is not solved."
No Purchase Procedures
Many of those who are virtually camped across a side street from the embassy say their relatives are ready to pay for their tickets to the United States and guarantee their initial support there. Many, in fact, have enough money to purchase tickets--but there are no procedures for this yet.
The resettlement costs, averaging $1,800 to $2,000 a person, have been borne until now by the U.S. government as part of its refugee program.
The $119.5 million allocated for the program for the current fiscal year has been largely exhausted, according to State Department officials, because of the unexpected surge in Armenian emigration and the continued reliance by Armenians on refugee status to gain quick admission to the United States.
In the fiscal year that ended last Sept. 30, the embassy here issued about 1,800 visas for Soviet citizens who were going to settle in the United States. But in April alone, it issued 1,200, in May 1,400 and in June more than 2,000--contributing to a total of 9,400 so far in the current fiscal year.
"We have more than five times as many people coming this year as last, and we ran out of money," an embassy official said. "That is what stopped the flow, and unfortunately, we have not been able to get it restarted on a new basis."