Countries of Refugee Origins and Asylum
Country of Origin
Afghanistan
Main Countries of Asylum

Iran / Pakistan / CIS / India


Rwanda

Burundi / Tanzania / Uganda / Zaire


Bosnia and Herzegovina

Croatia / F.R. Yugoslavia / Germany


Liberia

Guinea / Côte d’Ivoire / Ghana / Nigeria


Iraq

Iran / Saudi Arabia


Somalia

Djibouti / Ethiopia / Kenya / Yemen


Sudan

Uganda / Zaire / Kenya / Ethiopia


Eritrea

Sudan


Angola

Zaire / Zambia / Congo / Namibia


Sierra Leone

Guinea / Liberia


Frequently Asked Questions

Who is a refugee?
The definition here is directly from the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees): According to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is someone who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality or habitual residence, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country. People fleeing conflicts or generalized violence are also generally considered as refugees, although sometimes under legal mechanisms other than the 1951 Convention.
Is it legal for refugees to come to the US?
Because refugees are brought to the US by the US Department of State in cooperation with the UNHRC, they enter the US and remain here legally and are legal to work as soon as they arrive.
Are asylum-seekers and migrants the same as a refugee?
The term “asylum-seeker” and “refugee” are often confused. An asylum-seeker is an individual who says he/she is a refugee but whose claim has not yet been finally decided on by the country in which he/she has submitted it or by UNHCR. Not every asylum-seeker will ultimately be recognized as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum-seeker. A person is a refugee as soon as she/he fulfills the criteria contained in the definition of the international refugee instruments. This would necessarily occur prior to the time at which her/his refugee status is formally determined. Recognition of her/his refugee status does not therefore make him/her a refugee, but declares him/her to be one. Although refugees are increasingly confused with economic migrants, the difference is, in principle, quite clear. Refugees do not choose to leave their countries, but are forced to do so out of fear of persecution or as a result of armed conflict. By contrast, economic migrants do enjoy the protection of their home countries but voluntarily decide to leave, for instance, to improve their economic situation or because of family links.
How many refugees and displaced persons are there, and who makes up the majority of the refugee population?
The term “asylum-seeker” and “refugee” are often confused. An asylum-seeker is an individual who says he/she is a refugee but whose claim has not yet been finally decided on by the country in which he/she has submitted it or by UNHCR. Not every asylum-seeker will ultimately be recognized as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum-seeker. A person is a refugee as soon as she/he fulfills the criteria contained in the definition of the international refugee instruments. This would necessarily occur prior to the time at which her/his refugee status is formally determined. Recognition of her/his refugee status does not therefore make him/her a refugee, but declares him/her to be one. Although refugees are increasingly confused with economic migrants, the difference is, in principle, quite clear. Refugees do not choose to leave their countries, but are forced to do so out of fear of persecution or as a result of armed conflict. By contrast, economic migrants do enjoy the protection of their home countries but voluntarily decide to leave, for instance, to improve their economic situation or because of family links.

How many refugees and displaced persons are there, and who makes up the majority of the refugee population? In 2013 the estimated refugee population worldwide stood at 15.4 million, with 11.1 million receiving protection or assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The United States actively supported efforts to provide protection, assistance, and durable solutions to refugees because these measures meet both the humanitarian objectives and the national security interests of the United States. The U.S. government worked with other governments, international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to provide protection and assistance to refugees, internally displaced persons, victims of conflict, and other vulnerable migrants. These efforts included the legal and physical protection of refugees, and the provision of water, sanitation, food, health care, shelter, education, and other services.

In seeking durable solutions for refugees, the United States and UNHCR recognized for most refugees, safe voluntary return to their homelands was the preferred solution. Where opportunities for return remained elusive, the United States and its partners pursued self-sufficiency and temporary, indefinite, or permanent local integration in countries of asylum. The Department of State worked diplomatically to encourage host governments to protect refugees through local integration, and provided assistance to meet integration needs through promoting refugee self-sufficiency and community-based social services.

UNHCR estimated approximately 12 million people worldwide were not recognized nationals of any state and were therefore legally or de facto stateless. Without recognized citizenship in any country, many stateless persons existed in refugee-like situations, denied even the most basic protections of law. The United States supported UNHCR’s efforts to prevent and reduce statelessness, including addressing gaps in citizenship laws, eliminating provisions discriminating against women, and promoting fair application of those laws.

The United States and UNHCR also recognized resettlement in third countries was a vital tool for providing refugees protection and/or durable solutions, particularly for those for whom other solutions were not feasible. For some refugees, resettlement was the best, and perhaps only, alternative. The United States was the world’s leader in refugee resettlement, admitting more than three million refugees since 1975, including nearly 70,000 in Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 through the U.S. Refugee Admission Program (USRAP). The United States encouraged UNHCR to refer for resettlement individuals or groups of stateless refugees for whom other durable solutions were not possible. UNHCR or a U.S. embassy could refer nationals of any country to the U.S. program for reasons of religious persecution. The United States also supported UNHCR’s efforts to expand the number of countries active in resettlement, and engaged bilaterally on the issue. In FY 2013, UNHCR referred refugees to 28 countries for resettlement consideration.

An increasing proportion of refugees arriving in the United States either did not have close family members already living in the United States to help with their adjustment and integration, or their family members were recent arrivals themselves. The refugee population was increasingly diverse linguistically, with wide-ranging educational and employment histories among the 65 nationalities admitted in FY 2013. The shortage of available affordable housing, particularly in urban areas, continued. These factors created significant challenges for resettlement agencies in meeting the needs of refugees in the program. The Departments of State and Health and Human Services worked closely with private voluntary resettlement agencies to enhance capacities to provide effective services.

AFRICA

The USRAP continued to be available through Priority 1 individual referrals of Sudanese, Eritrean, and other refugees who were victims of religious intolerance. Refugees from Eritrea and Sudan with refugee or asylee family members in the United States also had access to the USRAP through the Priority 3 refugee family reunion program. In FY 2013, 15,980 refugees from 24 African countries were admitted to the United States.

EAST ASIA

Nationals of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Vietnam, China, Laos, and Burma, including victims of religious intolerance, had access to the USRAP through Priority 1 individual referrals. A significant number of Burmese will be processed in FY 2014 under a Priority 2 group designation for certain Burmese ethnic minorities in Thailand and Malaysia. North Korean and Burmese refugees also had access to family reunification processing through Priority 3. In FY 2013, 16,537 refugees from seven countries in East Asia were admitted to the United States.

EUROPE AND CENTRAL ASIA

Certain religious minorities in Europe and Central Asia had access to USRAP processing. A Priority 2 designation applied to Jews, evangelical Christians, and Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox religious adherents identified in the “Lautenberg Amendment” (Public Law Number. 101-167, § 599D, 103 Stat. 1261 (1989), as amended) with close family in the United States. With annual renewal of the Lautenberg Amendment, these individuals are considered under a reduced evidentiary standard for establishing a well-founded fear of persecution. In FY 2013, the United States admitted 580 refugees from 11 countries in Europe and Central Asia, including those under the Lautenberg Amendment in-country processing program.

LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN

The USRAP in Havana offered the opportunity for permanent resettlement in the United States to Cubans who were persecuted on a number of grounds, including their religious beliefs. The Government of Cuba declined to provide the necessary exit visas to some individuals. In FY 2013, 4,439 refugees from Latin America and the Caribbean were resettled in the United States, including 4,205 Cubans and 230 Colombians.

NEAR EAST AND SOUTH ASIA

The USRAP provided resettlement access to refugees in the Near East and South Asia who suffered religious persecution, accepting UNHCR and embassy Priority 1 referrals of religious minorities of various nationalities in the region. The Specter Amendment (Public Law Number 108-199, first enacted as sec. 213, Division E, of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2004) permitted Iranian religious minorities designated as category members to benefit from a reduced evidentiary standard for establishing a well-founded fear of persecution. Iranian refugees also had access to the program through Priority 3. In FY 2013, 32,390 refugees from 16 countries in the Near East/South Asia region were admitted to the United States, including 9,134 Bhutanese, 19,488 Iraqis, and 2,579 Iranians.
What are the options for resettlement?
Most refugees and displaced persons return to their communities when peace and stability return to their country. When conditions in countries of origin remain unstable or there is a danger of persecution upon repatriation, some refugees are able to stay in a refugee settlement in another country. Unfortunately, many host countries are unable to accept refugees permanently. Resettlement in a third country, such as the United States, is the last option, and is available to only a tiny fraction of the world’s refugees.
How does the refugee determination process work?
According to the 1951 Convention and UNHCR’s Statute, five criteria must be met for a person to qualify as a refugee:

1) Well-founded fear
2) Persecution
3) Reasons: race, religion, nationality, membership of a particuluar social group or political opinion
4) Outside country of nationality / former habitual residence
5) Unable or unwilling, for fear of persecution, to seek that country’s protection or to return there

Persons seeking refugee status are interviewed by officials. The purpose of the interview is to establish whether the applicant meets these criteria. UNHCR’s direct involvement in the determination of refugee status varies from country to country.
How many refugees does the U.S. accept for resettlement?
The United States has a tradition of offering refuge to those fleeing persecution and war. The U.S. government maintains a long-established humanitarian program that grants sanctuary in this country to a limited number of refugees who cannot safely return home or stay in the host country. The United States was the world’s leader in refugee resettlement, admitting more than three million refugees since 1975, including nearly 70,000 in Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 through the U.S. Refugee Admission Program (USRAP).
How do refugees make it to the United States?
The Department of State’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) oversees the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program through U.S. embassies worldwide. The State Department develops application criteria and refugee admission levels and presents eligible cases for adjudication by officers of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

USCIS officers travel to the country of asylum to interview refugees who fall within the priorities established for the relevant nationality or region. The USCIS officers interview potential applicants to determine whether or not they are refugees as defined under U.S. law. A refugee of any nationality may be referred by UNHCR, however this does not guarantee admission to the U.S., for they must still qualify under U.S. law.

Upon completion of security and medical screening, the USCIS officer may approve the refugee’s application for U.S. resettlement. After approval, arrangements are made for his/her placement with a U.S. voluntary agency and travel to the U.S.
Who is responsible for protecting and helping refugees?
UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and is primarily responsible for protecting refugees as well as finding lasting solutions for the problems a refugee faces. UNHCR was conceived in the aftermath of the Second World War, at a time when the issue of human rights was high on the agenda of the international community. Its immediate predecessor, the International Refugee Organization (IRO), had been concerned with repatriating and resettling people displaced by the war, and reached the end of its mandate in 1950. Yet there remained over one million refugees, many of whom were living in camps. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was established on December 14, 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The High Commissioner is elected by the General Assembly and reports to that body through the Economic and Social Council. Policy directives are provided by the General Assembly. In accordance with its Statute, UNHCR’s work is humanitarian and non-political in character.
What countries are refugees coming from and will they go back?
The refugee crisis is a worldwide crisis. The UNHCR’s definition of a refugee is people who flee their country because of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group. A refugee either cannot return home, or is afraid to do so. The chart below from the UNHCR shows the countries which refugees are most commonly currently coming from. The Memphis, TN area has most currently received many refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq and Bhutan/Nepal (with Bhutan/Nepal not being listed below for some reason.) About ten or more years ago, the Memphis area received and helped to resettle many Sudanese and Rwandan refugees.

Country of origin Main country of asylum
Afghanistan Iran/Pakistan/CIS/India
Rwanda Burundi/Tanzania/Uganda/Zaire
Bosnia &
Herzegovina
Croatia/F.R. Yugoslavia/Germany
Liberia Guinea/Côte d’Ivoire/Ghana/Nigeria
Iraq Iran/Saudi Arabia
Somalia Djibouti/Ethiopia/Kenya/Yemen
Sudan Uganda/Zaire/Kenya/Ethiopia
Eritrea Sudan
Angola Saline laxative
Sierra Leone Zaire/Zambia/Congo/Namibia
Bhutan Nepal
How does the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, application and case processing work?
When UNHCR — or, rarely, a U.S. Embassy or a specially trained nongovernmental organization — refers a refugee applicant to the United States for resettlement, the case is first received and processed by an Overseas Processing Entity (OPE). The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) works with international and nongovernmental organizations to run eight regional OPEs around the world. Under PRM’s guidance, the OPEs process eligible refugee applications for resettlement in the United States.

Some refugees can start the application process with the OPE without a referral from UNHCR or other entity. This includes close relatives of refugees already resettled in the United States and refugees who belong to specific groups set forth in statute or identified by the Department of State as being eligible for direct access to the program.

The OPEs collect biographic and other information from the applicants for security screening. The security screening ensures that terrorists and/or criminals do not enter the United States through the refugee program. Officers from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) review all the information that the OPE has collected and also have a face-to-face interview with each refugee applicant before deciding whether to approve him or her for resettlement in the United States.

When a USCIS officer approves a refugee for admission, the next step is a medical screening to identify medical needs and to ensure that people with a contagious disease, such as tuberculosis, do not enter the United States. Finally, the OPE requests a “sponsorship assurance” from a U.S.-based resettlement agency that is experienced in providing assistance to newly arrived refugees. All refugees are offered a brief U.S. cultural orientation course prior to departure for the United States.

Those refugees who receive USCIS approval to resettle in the United States enter the Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). USRAP is a cooperative public-private program made up of a number of participants. The support of millions of Americans is fundamental to the program’s success. Though Congress mandated the program, it is local communities that have ensured the success of the resettlement program by welcoming and helping refugees from around the world.

United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) is comprised of: • The Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) of the U.S. Department of State.

• The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

• The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. • Ten domestic nongovernmental organizations with a total of more than 350 affiliated offices across the United States.

• Thousands of private citizens who volunteer their time and skills to help refugees resettle in the United States.

The total processing time varies depending on an applicant’s location and other circumstances, but the average time from the initial UNHCR referral to arrival as a refugee in the United States is generally from eight months to one year.
How does the planning for a refugees’ arrival in the United States work?
The Department of State works with 10 domestic resettlement agencies that have proven knowledge and resources to resettle refugees. Every week, representatives of each of these 10 agencies meet near Washington to review the biographic information and other case records sent by the OPEs to determine where a refugee will be resettled in the United States. During this meeting, the resettlement agencies match the particular needs of each incoming refugee with the specific resources available. If a refugee has relatives in the United States, he or she is likely to be resettled near or with them. Otherwise, the resettlement agency that agrees to “sponsor” the case decides on the best match between a community’s resources and the refugee’s needs.

The information about the location and the name of the sponsoring agency is communicated back to the originating OPE, which then works with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to bring the refugee to his or her new home. The cost of refugee transportation is provided as a loan, which refugees are required to begin repaying after they are established in the United States.
What happens to refugees when they come to the United States?
Refugees must rebuild their lives from traumatic and tragic circumstances. The majority embrace their newly adopted homeland with tremendous energy and success. They go on to work, attend universities, build professions, purchase homes, raise children and contribute to their communities. Ultimately refugees obtain citizenship and become fully participating members of society. They become Americans.

Many refugees come to the United States without any possessions and without knowing anyone. Other refugees come here to be reunited with family members. All refugees receive limited assistance from the U.S. government and non-profit organizations like Asha’s Refuge. The resettlement agency, Catholic Charities, helps refugees find housing, learn about life and customs in America, secure jobs, learn English, and become citizens. They also provides most of the basic things refugees need to restart their lives here and we help them overcome cultural barriers so that their adjustment is as easy as possible. The resettlement relies on volunteers and community involvement for its success.

As stated before, the Department of State has cooperative agreements with 10 domestic resettlement agencies to resettle refugees. While some of the agencies have religious affiliations, they are not allowed to proselytize. The standard cooperative agreement between the Department of State and each of the domestic resettlement agencies specifies the goods and services that the agency must provide to each refugee. All together, the 10 domestic resettlement agencies have about 350 affiliates throughout the United States. Each agency headquarters stays in touch with the affiliates to monitor the resources (e.g., interpreters who speak various languages, the size and special features of available housing, the availability of schools with special services, medical care, English classes, counseling, etc.) that each affiliate’s community can offer.

As the cooperative agreement requires, all refugees are met at the airport upon arrival in the United States by someone from the sponsoring resettlement affiliate and/or a family member or friend. They are taken to their apartment, which has furnishings, appliances, climate appropriate clothing and some of the food typical of the refugee’s culture. Shortly after arrival, refugees are helped to start their lives in the United States. This includes applying for a Social Security card, registering children in school, learning how to reach and use shopping facilities, arranging medical appointments and connecting with needed social or language services.

The Department of State’s Reception and Placement program provides assistance for refugees to settle in the United States. It supplies resettlement agencies a one-time sum of $1,875 per refugee to defray a refugee’s costs during the first few weeks. Most of these funds go toward the refugees’ rent, furniture, food, and clothing, as well as to pay the costs of agency staff salaries, office space and other resettlement-related expenses that are not donated or provided by volunteers.

Though the Department of State’s Reception and Placement program is limited to the first weeks after arrival, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement works through the states and nongovernmental organizations to provide longer term cash and medical assistance, as well as language and social services.

Refugees receive work authorization cards and are encouraged to become employed as soon as possible. Based on years of experience, the U.S. refugee resettlement program has found that people learn English and begin to function comfortably much faster if they start work soon after arrival. Most refugees begin in entry-level jobs, even if they have high-level skills or education. With time, many refugees move ahead professionally and find both success and satisfaction in the United States. There are, however, often refugees who are in disadvantaged situations that seem to take longer to resettle. This includes those who have a disability, have no prior education, have multiple children, are single or widowed or are elderly. Asha’s Refuge exists to help this group of disadvantaged refugees which are most often women and children.

After one year, refugees are expected to apply for permanent residence (commonly referred to as a green card) and, after five years in the United States, a refugee is eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.
What benefits do refugees receive?
The circumstances under which refugees leave their country are different from those of other immigrants. Often in fleeing persecution, they are without the luxury of bringing personal possessions or preparing themselves for life in a new culture. Recognizing this fact, the federal government provides transitional resettlement assistance to newly arrived refugees. In the first 90 days, agencies such as the IRC contract with the Department of State to provide for refugee’s food, housing, employment, medical care, counseling and other services to help the refugee make a rapid transition to economic self-sufficiency.

NOTE: Much of this information was extracted from the websites of the UNHRC and the US State Department, including the 2013 Overview of US Refugee Policy found here