Speaker: Refugee admissions a complex process

The United States’ process for handling refugees from across the globe came a little closer to UK with a speech by one of the nation’s top officials on the topic.

Terry L. Rusch, director of the State Department’s Refugee Admissions program since 1989, spoke about U.S. refugee policy and programs in the auditorium of the W.T. Young Library Friday morning.

In her speech, Rusch described a refugee admissions process that has multiple steps involving Congress, the president and her office in the State Department, among others.

“It’s not like we wave a wand over 10,000 Bhutanese and say, ‘Come on in,’” she said.

Every year, Refugee Admissions, the president and Congress work together to determine exactly how many people from specific countries or continents will be allowed into the United States, she said.

For example, for the 2009 fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, President Bush has proposed a ceiling of 80,000 refugees, with: 37,000 from the Near East and South Asia; 19,000 from East Asia; 12,000 from Africa; 4,500 from Latin America and the Caribbean; and 2,500 from Europe and Central Asia.

One focus of Refugee Admissions in recent years has been Iraqi refugees, Rusch said. More than 12,000 Iraqi refugees have been admitted for the fiscal year ending this month — about 20 percent of the total refugees the U.S. will admit worldwide for the year.

While many Iraqis came before the War in Iraq began in 2003, the invasion has added to the U.S. efforts to relocate refugees, Rusch said.

“If the U.S. hadn’t invaded Iraq, I don’t think we would’ve been under this pressure to resettle,” she said.

In addition to Iraqis, Rusch focused on Kosovars and Bhutanese in her Friday speech. All three groups represent different ways the U.S. has admitted refugees to the U.S., she said.

The Kosovo refugee program in the late 1990s represented an example of an emergency situation, where an ethnic group needed immediate evacuation and several other nations were overwhelmed with other refugee populations, she said.

Bhutan’s refugee program in the 1990s was a time when a refugee population awaited an uncertain future in Nepal, she said.

“There was an entire population growing up in these camps,” she said. “So I came back and rattled some cages.”

Hearing about refugee programs in Nepal, the country of her birth, was “academic and personal,” said Christie Shrestha, a first-year doctoral student.

“I liked hearing from someone who’s in the program, actually in the process,” said Shrestha, who left Nepal at 12. “This is neat.”

Undeclared sophomore Andy Norris came to Rusch’s lecture Friday to earn extra credit for a class. However, he said the lecture proved to be an interesting way to learn about a slice of the United States’ population.

“You see a lot of people from other countries get here, but you never think about how they get here,” Norris said. “So it was interesting to see how the process works.”