WASHINGTON (Nov. 13)
Hundreds of Jews are stranded in Moscow and Vienna because of a moratorium on refugee admissions to the United States.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, all refugee interviews and processing stopped because of security issues.
The cessation was part of the United States’ general re-evaluation of immigration policies after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Since Oct. 1, no refugees have been admitted to the United States.
It is unclear when processing and admissions will start up again
Jewish groups sent a letter Tuesday to President Bush requesting that the refugee admissions program be reinstated.
According to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, 470 people in Moscow and 119 HIAS-sponsored refugees in Vienna have been approved for admission to the United States and await the lifting of the moratorium.
More than 200 Jewish cases are also pending in the Vienna office.
Jewish leaders and heads of other refugee organizations met with White House officials last week and planned to meet State Department officials Wednesday to press for a speedy admittance of these refugees.
If the stoppage continues and federal funds are not forthcoming, then there could be dramatic changes at HIAS, according to Leonard Glickman, president of the group.
There are more than 100 communities in the United States that work on resettling refugees, but some of the staff and programming, particularly in smaller agencies, would likely be cut if the situation does not change soon, Glickman said.
“If this goes on much longer, we will lose communities and staff at the local level,” he said.
Both the Moscow and Vienna programs have been running for more than 10 years, and a moratorium on all refugees has never happened before, Glickman said.
Other immigration-related programs, such as student visas and work visas, are being allowed to continue.
The moratorium is an overreaction from the federal government, Glickman said.
For its part, the State Department said the annual review of how many refugees will be admitted has been delayed because of the Sept. 11 attacks, but it hopes to complete this review shortly.
“We are optimistic that this will happen very quickly,” a State Department official said.
Given the uncertainty of how long the stoppage will continue and the possible staff reductions, Glickman is unsure of the ability of his agency to assist the administration if months from now the White House looks to HIAS for resettlement of Afghans displaced during the current war.
“When the government turns to us for help, we may not be there,” he said.