The Refugee Process

1) People facing fear of persecution in their homeland flee to a second country in which they can seek shelter. This may mean simply living outside in the jungle on the border or it may be finding a home in the middle of the city.

2) Once having fled to the second country, these individuals fall under the international definition of "refugees" and can seek out assistance from the United Nations to recognize their status officially.  (This is different from being a refugee according to US guidelines. It also does not include people who flee from one part of their country to another; they are known as 'internally displaced people' or IDPs.) Should there be a mass exodus to a site due to a sudden upheaval, the UN will often enter the area with the permission of the host country in order to organize assistance and protection for these refugees.  This is usually the start of the loose outfit usually called a "refugee camp".  The longer a group remains in a country, the more organized the camp becomes and non-governmental agencies from numerous countries may all have a presence to offer assistance in specific areas: food distribution, clean water programs, medical aid, education, etc.

3) The United Nation will begin working to find a durable solution for those who fled their country. They will monitor the situation in their homeland to see if a safe return is possible.  They will also work to see if the families can integrate locally in the country in which they are staying.  In the end, neither of these options may be viable and the UN may determine that particular individuals or entire groups have no options and recommend that they be referred to a third country for resettlement.

4) Some refugees are referred to the United States as a possible place for resettlement. While most people are referred by the UN, other referrals may come directly from the embassy,  organizations, or from eligible relatives already arrived.  Upon referral, the United States begins determination of the eligibility for refugee status according to the USRP (the United States Refugee Program that began back in 1980 following the influx of refugees from the war in Vietnam.) 

5) Potential refugee applicants must pass through a process of interviews to prove the validity of their story and their circumstances.  In conjunction with security checks, these interviews with Department of Homeland Security representatives traveling to the refugee sites are what ultimately decide the fate of hundreds of families.  The whole process may take years to be decided---especially since the areas considered priority for interviews and resettlement change from year to year depending upon the determinations of congress. 

6) Once accepted for resettlement, refugees begin a process of medical screenings and orientations about culture and expectations in the United States.  Meanwhile, the refugee case is assigned to a voluntary agency in the US who approves the family to be sent to a particular city.  Another agency called the International Organization for Migration then arranges for their travel.  Again, the process itself may take some years. 

7) Refugees step on an airplane (usually for the first time in their life) for the long ride to America.  After passing through an immigration point of entry, they continue on to the city which has been selected for them as their place of resettlement. There they are met by a member of the local refugee resettlement agency assigned to help them for at least three months.  The agency is given a small amount of money to support the family for their first month and prepares a place for them to live with very basic furnishings and needs.

8) Over the next few weeks, the refugee agency helps the family access state programs that will help them for some additional months after their arrival. During that time, the agency also takes the family through the steps of getting involved in English classes, receiving medical screenings and health care, and learning about their new home and community.  Volunteers and churches may play a role in this process as well.  The ultimate goal is to have a family ready to find employment since they have to be totally financially independent very quickly.

9) If all goes well, a refugee begins a job and is set to start the very personal journey of carving their niche in America.

10) After a year in America, refugees have the chance to apply for their permanent residence or "green card".  After their fifth year in the US, they then can apply to be citizens.

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