Proposed Cuts in House Could Prove Disastrous to U.S. Refugee Program

Posted on Tue, Feb 22, 2011 at 14:35 pm

(New York, NY) – Cuts contained in the Continuing Resolution (CR) passed by the House of Representatives at the end of last week would bring the U.S. refugee program to the brink of disaster, if enacted.

The House of Representatives slashed the Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) account, which provides basic, life-saving assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons, by 45 percent from current funding levels. If this level of funding is enacted by Congress when the Senate returns from the President’s Day recess, the State Department essentially would have no additional funding to continue to protect and resettle refugees for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, which ends on September 30th.

The House of Representatives also approved a significant cut to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) budget. ORR provides a basic level of assistance to newly resettled refugees in order to help them obtain economic self-sufficiency and restart their lives in the United States.

According to Gideon Aronoff, President and CEO of HIAS, “ORR has been chronically underfunded, and reducing the already limited funding available would mean an even more difficult start for refugees who must overcome so many obstacles on their path to recovery and success in their new country.”

Also of great concern, the House did not include an extension of the Lautenberg Amendment. In effect for more than 20 years, this amendment is a critical component of the ability of the U.S. to protect refugees fleeing religious persecution in Iran and the Former Soviet Union. It must be renewed each year and has already expired. As a result, Jews, Christians, Baha’is, and other religious minorities seeking to flee are stuck in Iran, where they will remain until Congress authorizes an extension of the Lautenberg Amendment.

HIAS is doing all it can to ensure that the Senate continues to fund MRA and ORR at fiscal year 2010 levels through the end of this year and includes the Lautenberg Amendment in the CR so that the U.S. can continue to rescue and resettle refugees in 2011.

HIAS shares the concern expressed by Eric Schwartz, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, who, while visiting a camp for refugees from Cote D’Ivoire in Liberia last week, said: “I find myself both inspired and reflective about the essential nature of the work that PRM and our implementing partners do to save lives and alleviate suffering. The work not only reflects a moral imperative, but helps to promote peace and security when despair and desperation threaten stability and U.S. national security interests. For these reasons, I also find myself deeply concerned—even heartbroken—by the prospect of proposed humanitarian aid reductions of historic and devastating proportions.”

Said Aronoff, “Times are tough in America, but we can and must still help those who have fled persecution, leaving their homes, family, and possessions behind. This is what our country has always been about, and turning our back on refugees would not only be a tragedy for them, but a stain on our country’s values, history, and tradition of providing basic aid to those around the world who need it most and have nowhere else to turn.”