[Congressional Record: June 20, 2002 (House)]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
CELEBRATING WORLD REFUGEE DAY
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the
gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Payne) is recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. PAYNE. Mr. Speaker, today is World Refugee Day. For many years,
numerous countries all around the world have set aside a day for
remembering the plight of refugees. One of the most widespread is
African Refugee Day celebrated June 20 in several African countries.
In 2000, as an expression of solidarity with Africa, a special U.N.
General Assembly resolution was passed naming June 20 of every year
World Refugee Day.
Some of my colleagues may be thinking, why do we need a day to
celebrate refugees? Why? Because today, right now, there are over 21
million refugees worldwide, people displaced by conflict, humanitarian
disasters, and crises; men, women, and children whose lives are starkly
different from those we lead because they find it very difficult
to meet just basic needs such as food, shelter, and water. Many times,
men, women, and children find themselves living in destitute conditions
in camps that leave them vulnerable to attack and to disease. There are
anywhere from 3 million to 6 million refugees and approximately 10.6
million internally displaced refugees in Africa. More than half of all
African refugees have fled from four countries: Sierra Leone, Somalia,
Sudan, and Angola. These four countries, along with Eritrea, Burundi
and Liberia, each produce over a quarter of a million or more of
refugees. The numbers are staggering, too large even to imagine, and
difficult to connect to human lives.
So what do we do? What does it mean to be a refugee? Who needs to be
Let me tell my colleagues the story of one. Jean Pierre Kamwa, a
student activist from Cameroon, fled to the United States in 1999
seeking asylum from imprisonment and torture, evils visited upon him
because of his activism, ethnic background, and pro-democracy rhetoric.
After arriving at JFK Airport from the long trip and treacherous
ordeal, he was immediately taken into custody, fingerprinted,
photographed, and handcuffed by an INS officer. Mr. Kamwa was told to
remove his clothes and was subsequently searched. Then he was taken,
still handcuffed, to the Wackenhut detention facility in Queens, New
York, where he was detained for 5 months until granted asylum in April
Mr. Kamwa now works with refugee visitation programs, such as First
Friends, a community-based network that coordinates visits to the
Elizabeth, New Jersey, immigration facility where 300 refugees are
being held waiting for their cases to be judged and, might I add, at a
facility that still does not reach the standards, in my opinion, that
This one man's story shows that even refugees who find their way to
our shores have a long way to go before they can lead normal lives
again. Now imagine that you are a refugee, seeking asylum in the United
States. Imagine how difficult life is, held in detention, while you are
Since September 11, that wait has become even longer. Understandably,
the tragedy that occurred created a delay in the processing of
immigration and refugee resettlement cases. On November 21, 2001,
President Bush authorized the admission of 70,000 refugees into the
United States for fiscal year 2002. Yet, as of May 31 of this year,
slightly less than 13,800 refugees have been admitted. Given the
current pace of processing, it is highly unlikely that the allocation
admissions level will be reached by September 30 of 2002; and,
therefore, those people will not have an opportunity to come into this
What is even more disturbing is that while 28 percent of the refugees
worldwide are Africans in origin, less than 7 percent of the refugees
admitted into this country in fiscal year 2002 are of African origin. A
mere 891 African refugees have been admitted this year, while 14,089
refugees from the Near East and South Asia have been resettled in the
same amount of time; and a staggering 6,470 have come from the former
Soviet Union. There is clearly an imbalance here, and it has to be
Testifying at a February 12 hearing held by the Senate Immigration
Subcommittee, the head of the State Department's Refugee Bureau,
Assistant Secretary Dewey, and INS Commissioner James Ziglar committed
their agencies to working very diligently to admit the 70,000 refugees
that President Bush pledged to bring to the United States of America.
In his testimony Ziglar said, ``The terrorist attacks of September 11
were caused by evil, not immigration. We can and will protect ourselves
against people who seek to harm the United States, but we cannot judge
immigrants or refugees by the actions of terrorists. Our Nation must
continue in its great tradition of offering a safe haven to the
oppressed and persecuted.''
Mr. Speaker, I ask all of my colleagues to join in to try to make the
processing of refugees more humane.
The Refugee Resettlement program has proved to be a success for many
individuals seeking asylum from terrible situations in their own
countries, such as the thousands of Dinka youths that have come to be
known as the ``Lost Boys'' of Sudan. The treacherous war in Sudan,
fueled by the lust for oil, has forced thousands of Southern Sudanese
to flee to neighboring countries like Kenya and Ethiopia. As the war
rages on, thousands of Sudanese boys went from one country to another
and 5,000 survivors of the 33,000 who originally fled Sudan ended up in
a refugee camp in Northern Kenya called Kakuma. They have since become
known as the ``Lost Boys'' of Sudan.
John Tot and 109 other Sudanese teenagers arrived in Philadelphia and
other cities around the U.S. in late 2000, part of a humanitarian
effort of the State Department and the UN High Commissioner on
Refugees. These young boys have overcome numerous obstacles to learn
English, graduate from high school, and even make their way to college.
The refugee resettlement program can work and can mean the difference
between barely surviving and leading a full, productive life. We must
do what we can to urge the processing of African refugees. It's a
matter of life and death.
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