WASHINGTON — President Bush this week authorized the admission of 70,000 refugees to the United States during fiscal 2002, a decrease of 10,000 from the previous year's level that continues a decline seen through much of the last decade.
U.S. policy, under the 1980 Refugee Act, gives the highest priority to the voluntary return of refugees to their homelands. Resettlement here is considered for those whose return is not possible, who need protection or who desire to join close relatives.
Joel Charny, vice president for policy at Washington-based Refugees International, called the new figure "really disappointing," but he said it "reflects an overall trend of declining asylum opportunities in industrialized countries."
A senior White House official said the reduction was a response to criticism last year from refugee organizations that sufficient services were not provided to the refugees who were admitted.
"The administration worked closely with the NGO [nongovernmental organizations] community as well as interested parties on the Hill" to come up with the figure, the official said. "The intent in this year's program is to spend more money on individual refugees to improve services." Budget figures for refugee resettlement have remained flat in recent years.
Before 1980, U.S. refugee quotas were largely ad hoc. Under the Refugee Act, Congress instructed the president to set a number each year. The number, which soared above 200,000 during the Reagan presidency, has tended to reflect U.S. foreign policy priorities, with refugees from communist countries given high priority through the end of the Cold War and beyond.
Last year, despite the 80,000 ceiling, 74,000 refugees were processed for admission.