|2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000
OVERVIEW OF U.S. REFUGEE POLICY
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates the world's refugee population to be 11.5 million persons. Millions more are displaced within their own countries by war, famine, and civil unrest. The United States works with other governments and international and nongovernmental organizations to protect refugees, internally displaced persons, and conflict victims, and strives to ensure that survival needs for food, health care, and shelter are met. The United States has been instrumental in mobilizing a community of nations to work through these organizations to alleviate the misery and suffering of refugees throughout the world. During FY 2000, the United States has supported major relief and repatriation programs throughout the world.
In seeking durable long-term solutions for most refugees, the United States gives priority to the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homelands. This policy, recognized in the Refugee Act of 1980, is also the preference of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the international community of nations that support refugees. If safe, voluntary repatriation is not feasible other durable solutions are sought, including resettlement in countries of asylum within the region and in other regions. Resettlement in other countries, including the United States, is appropriate for refugees in urgent need of protection and refugees for whom other durable solutions are inappropriate or unavailable.
The United States considers for admission as refugees persons of special humanitarian concern who can establish persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The legal basis of the refugee admissions program is the Refugee Act of 1980, which embodies the American tradition of granting refuge to diverse groups suffering or fearing persecution. The act adopted the definition of "refugee" contained in the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.
Over the past decade, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program has been adjusting its focus away from the large refugee admissions programs that had developed during the Cold War for nationals of Communist countries and toward more diverse refugee groups that require protection for a variety of reasons, including religious belief. The following describes the program's efforts, by region, in meeting the needs of refugees worldwide who have faced religious persecution.
For the majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, religious freedom and peaceful coexistence are the rule, even where other conflicts hold sway. The primary exception to the rule is Sudan, where the long ongoing civil war has a religious dimension. Islam is the state religion and Muslims dominate the Government. The Government continues to restrict the activities of Christians, practitioners of traditional indigenous religions and other non-Muslims. Security forces reportedly harass and use violence regularly against persons based on their religious beliefs. In areas controlled by the Government, access to education as well as other social services, is far easier for Muslims than for Christians and non-Muslims. The Government has conducted or tolerated attacks on civilians, indiscriminate bombing raids, and slave raids on the south, all with a religious as well as an ethnic dimension.
The U.S. admissions program has in recent years increased its focus in Egypt, Ethiopia, and Kenya on these Sudanese victims of religious discrimination and repression. The refugee processing program in Cairo was expanded in 1999 with Sudanese refugees as the primary beneficiaries. Plans are well-developed to resettle in FY 2001 several thousand young Sudanese refugees now in camps in Kenya, including over 100 unaccompanied minors.
Most countries in the region permit freedom of worship. However, the religious freedom situation in China is worsening. The Government actively suppresses those groups that it cannot control directly, most notably the Vatican-affiliated (underground) Catholic Church, Protestant "house churches," some Muslim groups, followers of the Dalai Lama in Tibet, and members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement. The Vietnamese constitution provides for freedom of worship; however, the Government restricts those organized activities of religious organizations that it defines as being at variance with state laws and policies. Most independent religious activities either are prohibited or restricted severely. For example, Buddhist monks are required to work under a party-controlled umbrella organization. The situation for some religious groups in Laos is similar. In Burma, the Government actively suppresses most non-Buddhist religions (particular in the case of minority ethnic groups such as the Karen and Chin). The religious freedom situation in North Korea is particularly hard to gauge given the extreme lack of access provided by the Government; however, most indications are that religious freedom is circumscribed severely.
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