Jewish Groups Express Concern at Move to Juggle Refugee Slots

Jewish groups expressed displeasure and concern Thursday that President Reagan has increased the number of Soviet refugees allowed to enter the United States by decreasing the numbers for Southeast Asian refugees.

They urged the incoming administration of President-elect George Bush and Congress to accord priority to finding a solution to the refugee problem.

Reagan announced Wednesday that the quota for refugees leaving the Soviet Union has been increased from 18,000 to 25,000 for the 1989 fiscal year.

He did this by cutting the numbers of refugees coming from Vietnam through the Orderly Departure Program by 5,500 and the number of Indochinese refugees allowed to enter the United States by 1,000.

Another 500 slots were cut from the allocations for refugees from the Near East and South Asia, which includes Iran and Afghanistan.

State Department spokesman Charles Redman explained Thursday that the Vietnam numbers were reallocated to the Soviet refugees because of the increased number of Jews and others being allowed to emigrate from the USSR.

He said that at the same time, the United States has been unsuccessful in negotiations with Hanoi for the release of political prisoners. None of them has been allowed to leave Vietnam since the fiscal year began on Oct. 1.

NO SHORTAGE OF PLACES

Redman maintained that there is no shortage of places for Southeast Asian refugees. The ceiling for refugees from Vietnam will now be 19,500, for Indochinese refugees 27,000; and for the Near East and South Asia 6,500.

David Harris. Washington representative of the American Jewish Committee, stressed that U.S. government faces an enormous problem on refugees, in large part because of foreign policy successes in dealing with the Soviet Union.

“Nonetheless it is unfortunate to seek to pit, however, unwittingly, two deserving groups against each other,” Harris said.

Pamela Cohen, national president of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, said her group expressed appreciation for Reagan’s increase in the ceiling for Soviet refugees.

“However, we are totally opposed to his decision to do so at the expense of equally deserving refugees from other parts of the world” Cohen said. “We have today urged President-elect Bush to act immediately upon taking office to restore the quotas for other groups.”

Phillip Saperia, assistant executive vice president of HIAS, also said that while the administration was acting in good faith to correct a difficult problem, it has “done the wrong thing.” He noted that refugee law allows shifting allocations, but it should not have been done because the numbers are needed elsewhere in the world.

“We don’t think that Jewish refugees should be served on the back of refugees from other groups,” he said.

Saperia called for a concerted and fast effort by the incoming administration and Congress to increase the number of refugees allowed and the funds to handle the increase the number of refugees allowed and the funds to handle the increase.

Harris also urged the new administration to consult with Congress on increasing the refugees numbers and budget, despite pressures to reduce the federal deficit.

REFUGEE BACKLOG OF 14,000

Redman said Thursday that Reagan’s decision was a reaction to the flow from the Soviet Union “right now, which indicates much larger numbers than in previous years.”

He said the number of people applying at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to enter the United States has reached nearly 100 a day and surpassed 2,000 a month. The refugee backlog as of the end of December was 14,000.

Redman said that since the beginning of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, 10,000 persons in Rome have applied for refugee status, 4,500 in December alone. He said if the December figure holds for the rest of the year, the total would exceed 50,000.

The budget crunch has resulted in some applicants being refused refugee status, including many Armenians in Moscow and some Jews in Rome.

Redman said that the attorney general has used his parole authority to allow 2,000 of these people to enter the United States from Moscow each month and an unlimited number from Rome.

But Saperia stressed that HIAS continues to advise all Soviet Jews denied refugee status not to accept parole while HIAS appeals the decisions of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Redman said the administration is also working on a proposed bill to set up a new class of immigrants to be admitted annually. This would replace the parole system, and allow the immigrants to eventually seek citizenship, which they cannot do under parole.

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