|2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates the world's refugee population to be 11.5 million persons. Millions more are displaced within their own countries by war, famine, and civil unrest. The United States works with other governments and international and nongovernmental organizations to protect refugees, internally displaced persons, and conflict victims, and strives to ensure that survival needs for food, health care, and shelter are met. The United States has been instrumental in mobilizing a community of nations to work through these organizations to alleviate the misery and suffering of refugees throughout the world. During FY 2000, the United States has supported major relief and repatriation programs throughout the world.
In seeking durable long-term solutions for most refugees, the United States gives priority to the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homelands. This policy, recognized in the Refugee Act of 1980, is also the preference of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the international community of nations that support refugees. If safe, voluntary repatriation is not feasible other durable solutions are sought, including resettlement in countries of asylum within the region and in other regions. Resettlement in other countries, including the United States, is appropriate for refugees in urgent need of protection and refugees for whom other durable solutions are inappropriate or unavailable.
The United States considers for admission as refugees persons of special humanitarian concern who can establish persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The legal basis of the refugee admissions program is the Refugee Act of 1980, which embodies the American tradition of granting refuge to diverse groups suffering or fearing persecution. The act adopted the definition of "refugee" contained in the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.
Over the past decade, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program has been adjusting its focus away from the large refugee admissions programs that had developed during the Cold War for nationals of Communist countries and toward more diverse refugee groups that require protection for a variety of reasons, including religious belief. The following describes the program's efforts, by region, in meeting the needs of refugees worldwide who have faced religious persecution.
For the majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, religious freedom and peaceful coexistence are the rule, even where other conflicts hold sway. The primary exception to the rule is Sudan, where the long ongoing civil war has a religious dimension. Islam is the state religion and Muslims dominate the Government. The Government continues to restrict the activities of Christians, practitioners of traditional indigenous religions and other non-Muslims. Security forces reportedly harass and use violence regularly against persons based on their religious beliefs. In areas controlled by the Government, access to education as well as other social services, is far easier for Muslims than for Christians and non-Muslims. The Government has conducted or tolerated attacks on civilians, indiscriminate bombing raids, and slave raids on the south, all with a religious as well as an ethnic dimension.
The U.S. admissions program has in recent years increased its focus in Egypt, Ethiopia, and Kenya on these Sudanese victims of religious discrimination and repression. The refugee processing program in Cairo was expanded in 1999 with Sudanese refugees as the primary beneficiaries. Plans are well-developed to resettle in FY 2001 several thousand young Sudanese refugees now in camps in Kenya, including over 100 unaccompanied minors.
Most countries in the region permit freedom of worship. However, the religious freedom situation in China is worsening. The Government actively suppresses those groups that it cannot control directly, most notably the Vatican-affiliated (underground) Catholic Church, Protestant "house churches," some Muslim groups, followers of the Dalai Lama in Tibet, and members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement. The Vietnamese constitution provides for freedom of worship; however, the Government restricts those organized activities of religious organizations that it defines as being at variance with state laws and policies. Most independent religious activities either are prohibited or restricted severely. For example, Buddhist monks are required to work under a party-controlled umbrella organization. The situation for some religious groups in Laos is similar. In Burma, the Government actively suppresses most non-Buddhist religions (particular in the case of minority ethnic groups such as the Karen and Chin). The religious freedom situation in North Korea is particularly hard to gauge given the extreme lack of access provided by the Government; however, most indications are that religious freedom is circumscribed severely.
The U.S. admissions program for East Asia accepts refugee cases referred by the UNHCR and U.S. embassies. Over the past several years, we have worked closely with the UNHCR to strengthen the referral process so those individuals in need of resettlement can have access to the program.
Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, freedom of religion varies widely in the countries of the Newly Independent States and the Baltics. Most states regulate religious groups and activities, specifying a set of "traditional" religions with certain privileges denied to other groups. Following the example of Russia in 1997, many states responded with more restrictive legislation to govern the activities of foreign missionaries. Registration in many cases is required not only to establish a group as a legal entity, which allows it to rent or own space, but even in some cases, to ensure a group's right to hold services. In most countries, obstruction or delay of registration, usually by local officials, continues to frustrate some denominations perceived as "foreign" or as "cults." In some countries, one's faith may be associated with ethnicity, patriotism, nationalism, or even with terrorism; in some cases authorities are suspicious of religious groups perceived as having political agendas and organizations.
The U.S. refugee admissions program provides resettlement opportunities to religious minority members (as identified in the Lautenberg Amendment) with close family ties to the United States. In addition, UNHCR has recently increased the number of referrals to the program.
Refugee admissions on religious grounds have been significant factors in both the Bosnia and Kosovo resettlement efforts. The U.S. refugee admissions program has provided protection to Muslims, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians, as well as individuals of other religious minorities. We will continue to work with the UNHCR, faith-based nongovernmental organizations, human rights groups, and U.S. missions to identify persons who qualify under the 1980 act on religious grounds for whom resettlement is appropriate.
In Latin America generally, religious freedom is widely recognized and enjoyed. The key exception is Cuba, where the Government engages in active efforts to monitor and control religious institutions, including surveillance, infiltration, and harassment of clergy and members; evictions from and confiscation of places of worship; and preventive detention of religious activists. It also uses registration as a mechanism of control; by refusing to register new denominations, it makes them vulnerable to charges of illegal association. However, despite these obstacles to religious expression, church attendance has grown in recent years.
The U.S. refugee admissions program specifically includes religious minorities and other human rights activists among the list of eligible groups.
Near East and South Asia
Repression of religious minorities is common in some countries in the Middle East and South Asia. In Pakistan discriminatory legislation has encouraged an atmosphere of violence, which has led to acts by extremists against religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis, and Zikris. In India state and local authorities' responses to extremist violence were often inadequate. In Saudi Arabia public non-Muslim worship is a criminal offense, as is conversion of a Muslim to another religion. In Iran members of minority religions continue to face arrest, harassment, and discrimination.
Iranian refugees who belong to religious minorities (Baha'is, Jews, Zorastrians, Christians) are able to apply directly for U.S. resettlement. In addition, the UNHCR and U.S. embassies in the region facilitate access to the admissions program for individuals of other nationalities who may qualify on religious grounds. We will continue efforts to improve access to refugee processing through dialogue with faith-based nongovernmental organizations and human rights groups who may identify victims with valid claims based on grounds of religious persecution. The UNHCR also has addressed religious persecution issues in several regional workshops to increase the sensitivity of protection and resettlement officers to victims of religious persecution.
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