HIAS works with all countries with whom the National U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program works.
Located in Southern Asia, the small country of Bhutan has produced, in proportion to its population, one of the largest groups of refugees in the world. In the early 1980s, the government of Bhutan began cracking down on the rights of ethnic minorities, especially the rights of the Lhothampas, a group originally from Nepal. The government banned the wearing of traditional clothing and the use of the Nepalese language in schools. Since 1991, twenty percent of Bhutan’s population has fled the country due to government repression and a crackdown on their civil liberties. After languishing in refugee camps for up to 17 years, refugees from Bhutan began entering the United States in 2008.
Once deemed the “rice bowl of Asia,” the ethnically diverse country of Burma is now the most impoverished country in southeast Asia and home to the world’s longest running civil war. Since 1962, a totalitarian government has ruled the country, denying democratic rights and attempting to ethnically cleanse the diverse cultures that exist. Ethnic peoples that live throughout the Northern and Eastern parts of the country have had their land taken away from them, and have often been forced into mandatory labor or military service. Since a further crackdown on democracy in 1988, thousands of refugees have fled to neighboring countries, mainly Thailand and Malaysia. Two of the largest ethnic groups are the Karen and the Chin, both of which began resettling in the United States in 2006.
In 1972, large numbers of Hutus fled their homes in Burundi to escape persecution by the Tutsi minority that ruled the country at the time. Most of the survivors and their descendants lived in refugee camps for over two decades, until the U.S. began accepting large numbers of Burundi refugees in 2006.
Former Soviet Union (FSU)
Certain religious minorities from the Former Soviet Union -- including Jews, Evangelical Christians, and Ukrainian Catholics -- are eligible for refugee status in the U.S. Such individuals must have close relatives, such as a parent, child, sibling, grandparent, or grandchild, living in the U.S. legally and permanently. In the 1990s, refugees from the FSU were the single largest group of refugees resettling in the U.S.
Officially known as the “Islamic Republic of Iran,” civilizations have flourished in the country for thousands of years. Conflict has as well. Iran became an Islamic Republic in 1979 after the ousting of the Shah and the instillation of a supreme leader. This government has repressed the rights of women and religious minorities and significantly limited freedom of expression. Religious minorities (Christians, Jews, Baha’is, Zoroastrians and Mandeans) who have suffered persecution under this government qualify for U.S. refugee status. Refugees can come to the U.S. through programs in Vienna or Turkey.
Five years after the U.S. military intervention in Iraq, the country faces one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises. The UNHCR estimates that 4.7 million Iraqis have fled their homes, with about 2 million of them fleeing to neighboring countries, including Syria and Jordan. The U.S. began resettling refugees from Iraq in 2007, and this group now makes up one of the largest groups of refugees coming into the United States.
In addition to Iraqi refugees who enter the U.S. refugee resettlement program, HIAS affiliates also have taken part in the Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) Program, which specifically was designed for immigrants from Iraq and Afghanistan who have worked to help U.S. army forces. These brave individuals often risked their safety and lives to work as translators, engineers, and a host of other positions essential to the U.S. army’s cause.
Located on the Horn of Africa, Somalia is populated by various ethnic groups, many of which are traditionally nomadic. Somalia gained its independence from Colonialism and established a democracy 1960. Almost immediately, the country faced internal ethnic conflict, accompanied with governmental instability, and the eventual establishment of a totalitarian government. Years of in-fighting and the dissolution of the central government led to civil war in 1991. The U.N. and the U.S. intervened in 1992, withdrawing in 1995.
Currently, a conflict rages between a warlord government and Islamist militias who oppose it. The fighting began in 2006, in the capital, Mogadishu, forcing thousands of civilians to flee to the neighboring country of Kenya. The United Nations estimates that 65,000 refugees will have fled by the end of 2008, adding to the thousands of people who have left the country throughout the decades of conflict. Refugee camps in Kenya were declared full in early 2008, and as thousands of people are still fleeing for their lives, resettlement has become a priority for refugees from Somalia.
Refugees from Vietnam are the largest population of refugees from southeast Asia resettled in the United States. Refugees began coming to the U.S. after Saigon fell to Communism in 1975. The first refugees were those who had helped the U.S. military during the war, and their families.
During the late 1970s, thousands of Southern Vietnamese, as well as ethnic Chinese, fled the country and became known as “boat people” as they fled to surrounding countries including Hong Kong, Singapore Thailand, and Malaysia. As thousands died on these precarious journeys, the U.N. created an “orderly departure” program, allowing refugees to be processed within the country and somewhat diminishing the high numbers of people who fled by boat. Ameriasians, children of Vietnamese mothers and American fathers, have been given immigrant status but are entitled to the same services as refugees in the U.S. Ameriasians, former political prisoners, and family members are still given refugee status today.
Click here to see a breakdown of National U.S. Refugee Resettlement Numbers, as well as HIAS’ numbers.