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Refugees Settling in the US Reaches 3 Million Mark


afghan refugees
Afghan women who were refugees in Iran returning to their country. The US has accepted three million refugees since 1975, with the largest nationalities coming from Vietnam, Iraq, Ukraine, Somalia and Cuba. ERIC KANALSTEIN/UN PHOTO

Since 1975, three million refugees have settled in the United States, the world’s largest recipient of distressed or endangered people seeking permanent new homes. The US is also the largest financial contributor to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, say new figures from the State Department and the UN refugee agency.

Canada and the US together have made North America the most welcoming region in the world for refugees and asylum seekers statistically – though there are always criticisms on how certain cases are handled, and concerns about security have created hurdles for many individuals.

Refugees and asylum seekers are different from immigrants, legal or not, who enter countries by other means, and refugee “resettlement” numbers do not include the millions of people who are helped temporarily by the UN refugee agency when they must flee their homes or countries.  Worldwide, the agency is helping more than 33 million displaced people, most of who will never seek or have the chance of permanent resettlement.

The State Department reported on Feb. 21 that among the three million people accepted to live in the US since 1975, 1.4 million came from Southeast Asia, most in the wake of the Vietnam War, conflicts in Cambodia and Laos or ethnic strife in Burma (Myanmar). More than 600,000 arrived from the former Soviet Union; 289,000 from South Asia; and 262,000 from Africa. By nationality, the largest numbers who have settled in the US were Vietnamese, Ukrainian, Iraqi, Cuban and Somali.

The five-leading states that have taken in refugees are, in order: California, New York, Texas, Washington and Florida.

The US, with more than $712 million in contributions in 2010 (the last available totals), is the top donor to the UN refugee agency, though in per capita it ranks 10th. The agency also compiles figures on private and foundation donations to its budget, collected through USA for UNHCR, a public support group. On that list, the Mormons – the Church of Latter-day Saints – were in 2010 by far the largest contributor, at $850,000. Among corporations, Microsoft led with more than $489,000. A private donation of $400,000 from Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, and his wife, Pamela, topped the private philanthropy list.





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Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.

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Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”

Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.

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11 years ago

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