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Refugee Experience | Somali

What is a refugee?

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) defines a refugee as a person who “owning to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership or a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or…unwilling to” return to their country of origin. 

What is the difference between a refugee asylum seeker?

An asylum seeker is someone who claims to be a refugee but whose claim has not been definitively evaluated.  An asylum seeker has applied for refugee status.  In the US people with refugee status are designated as such before they arrive in the US.  Asylum seekers come to the US and then apply for protection after their arrival.

What is an internally displaced person (IDP)?

An internally displaced person is a person, or group, who has been forced to leave their home as a result of, or in order to avoid the effects of, armed conflict, violence, or violations of human rights.  What makes and IDP differently from a refugee is that an IDP has not crossed an internally recognizes state border.

How does a refugee become a refugee?

The process to gain refugee status is often a difficult, long drawn out process.  The countries that accept refugees for resettlement examine the lists of individuals to determine if any meet their own criteria for resettlement.  Even after a refugee is accepted as eligible for resettlement, they often have to wait a long time for an available to slot to enter the country that has accepted his/her application.

What are a refugee’s options?

Refugees often have to wait for a durable solution to their crisis.  These “durable solutions” usually take the form of three paths: 
  1. Repatriation Refugees are allowed to return to their country of origin if conditions stabilize enough so that their safety is guaranteed upon return.
  2. Nationalization Refugees remain in their host country or “country of first asylum” (usually a country near their country or origin)
  3. Resettlement Refugees are resettled in a third country, usually the US or Western Europe (this happens with less than 1% of the World’s refugee population).

When assigned to be resettled, where are the refugees sent?

The US is one of only ten countries that have historically accepted refugees for resettlement.  The following countries are currently the major resettlement countries:
  1. United States
  2. Canada
  3. Australia
  4. Sweden
  5. Norway
  6. Finland
  7. New Zealand
  8. Netherlands
  9. United Kingdom
  10. Denmark

Recently, several developing countries have also begun accepting refugees chosen for third country resettlement.
  1. Brazil
  2. Ireland
  3. Argentina
  4. Italy
  5. Chile
  6. Mexico

How many refugees are there in the world?

It is estimated that there were between 14 and 15 million people fled their homes during 2007.  As of December 31, 2007, the World Refugee Survey, found on the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) website, estimates the following numbers exist in the following areas (It should be noted that the numbers contain not only those whom have been officially recognized as refugees but also asylum seekers and others that USCRI considers to be refugees):
Africa = 2,799,500 refugees
Americas and the Caribbean = 787,800
Europe = 527,900
Middle East and North Africa = 6,380,200
East Asia and the Pacific = 934,700
South and Central Asia = 2,617,200

How many new refugees are allowed into the US each year?

The number of refugees admitted into the US for resettlement varies from year to year.  Before the start of each fiscal year, the current administration consults with resettlement agencies, members of Congress, and leading experts in refugee affairs.  Based on these consultations, the President then issues a determination on refugee admissions for the year.  Typically between 50,000 and 75,000 refugees are accepted by the United States for Resettlement.  Some 80% of these are women and children.

On September 30, 2008, President Bush announced that up to 80,000 refugees can be potentially admitted into the United States during the next fiscal year.  The maximum numbers from each region are as follows:

37,000 from Near East and South Asia
19,000 from East Asia
12,000 from Africa
4,500 from Latin America and the Caribbean
2,500 from Europe and Central Asia
5,000 to be allocated by the State Department to various regions as the need arises

How many refugees are currently in refugee camps and where are they located?

Currently there are over 700 recognized refugee camps worldwide.  However, the number of refugee camps fluctuates with need but it is estimated that around 12 million refugees and asylum seekers live in camps in countries other than their own while 21 million people are “Internally Displaced Persons,” an official designation reserved for civilians displaced by persecution or violence, but they remain inside their own countries. 


What is “warehousing”?

The World Refugee Survey reports that as of the end of 2007, some 8,536,500 refugees /Internally Displaced Persons are considered “warehoused” within refugee camps.

Warehoused refugees are typically confined to camps or segregated settlements where they are virtually dependent upon humanitarian assistance.  Refugees are considered to be “warehoused” if they are not free to work, practice professions, run businesses, and own property.

Many of Nashville’s Somalis spent years in refugee camps in Kenya.  Three camps in particular, near Dadaab, Kenya exemplify refugee warehousing.   The camps near Dadaab have existed since the conflict in Somali began in 1991.  Generations of children have been born and grown up knowing only the day to day existence of a refugee camp.  The life expectancy in Dadaab’s refugee camps is similar to that of neighboring Somalia; 47 years.

For more information, visit the following organizations

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

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