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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal Theresa Rusch, Director of the Office of Refugee Admissions
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration

On-the-Record Briefing, Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC, April 25, 2000
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Kosovar Refugee Program

Mr. Reeker: Welcome back to the State Department briefing room this afternoon. We are very pleased to have Terry Rusch here, who is Director of the Office of Admissions in our Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, better known as PRM.

Hard as it may be to believe, we are approaching May the 1st of 2000. In relation to our Kosovar refugee program, this is the registration deadline for those that want to return under the U.S. Government-funded return program.

So what we will do is just turn it straight over to Terry, who can give you some remarks and then get to your questions in anticipation of the May 1st deadline.

Ms. Rusch: Okay, thank you. Just about a year ago at this time, the United States was announcing that we would be bringing Kosovars to the United States as our contribution to the International Humanitarian Evacuation Program under the auspices of UNHCR. The U.S. brought people in under the normal refugee admissions program. This was somewhat unique. I think only Canada operated its HEP program in a similar program. Most other countries have the authority to bring people in on a temporary status and provide social benefits that would be required in a situation such as we were facing with the Kosovars. And then, at a certain date, when the situation had clarified, return -- lift that status, basically, and return people to their home country. The U.S. doesn't really have that kind of a mechanism. So we decided to utilize the Refugee Admissions Program, which is authorized every year by a Presidential determination. We had some numbers remaining at the time in the program that could be used for this purpose, but we then went to the Congress and asked for more.

So by the end of our participation, we had brought in some 14,000 Kosovars as refugees, who were given the right to remain here permanently. However, as you know, things changed rather dramatically in June and early July of last year, so we announced that for people who came to the U.S. by July 31, 2000, if they were then to decide at a later date that they wished to return to Kosovo, we would finance their travel home. This is very unique in the experience of this program. There was a date for registration for that funded return set at May 1st, which is approaching, and we plan to adhere to it.

Anyway, in order to, as I said, be eligible for this program, you had to have come to the U.S. by July 31, 2000. So that meant that only about 11,200 of the 14,000 that we brought in in total, were eligible for the return. The others came after August 1, 2000 and we had said, if you come to the States now, we have already offered you resettlement if you choose to take advantage of it; given the situation that was then prevailing in Kosovo, we would not be providing funded return because the vast majority of people had already gone back from Macedonia [The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia] on their own at that stage. But if you had been INS-adjudicated, we would honor that offer of resettlement. But after July 31, 2000 if you planned to come back to Kosovo from the U.S., you had to pay on your own.

So of the 11,200 that had arrived in time to be eligible for this, as of today, some 3,350 have returned with our funding and there are about another 600 to 650 registered. So by the time midnight on May 1, 2000 rolls around, we should have something on the order of 4,000 plus, and that is 35 percent of the eligible population that will have availed themselves of this.

We have no way of knowing to date how many people have gone back on their own dime. We assume there have been some and there will likely be some who continue after we stop funding the travel. I should clarify that May 1, 2000 is the deadline for signing up. People who have children in school or other commitments in the States may remain here and not actually travel until June 15th to be eligible for this. But they have to declare their intentions by May 1st. It is the International Organization for Migration that handles most of the transportation of our refugees under this program that is also handling the return program.

A lot of this information is in these little information sheets that I can leave with you. Question: I'm not sure where you get the 4,000 from. Could you --

Ms. Rusch: The 4,000 -- some -- as of today, some 3,350 have already returned. That includes a charter that is leaving this afternoon. And another 600 to 650 have signed up. Those two numbers together total about 4,000. Question: Are you surprised that so many wanted to go back? Are you surprised that so few wanted to go back? I mean, what was your expectation when you announced this program?

Ms. Rusch: We thought, given what was going on with hundreds of thousands of people returning from both Albania and The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia , we thought there would be a heavy demand for return. And that's, quite frankly, one of the reasons we put this opportunity on the table, because we knew the situation was so fluid that anything could happen, and most of it did at the time. But assuming things didn't deteriorate -- and certainly after NATO went into Kosovo, the security situation stabilized and improved dramatically -- that there would be a lot of people wanting to go back, because most of these people were never intending immigrants when they left.

This was not a group of people that had left to find a better job working in western Europe somewhere. These are people who basically left because they had no alternative under some pretty stressful circumstances. There was a great demand.

It was interesting, we got some anecdotal information from talking to the voluntary agencies that resettled people about family dynamics. A lot of the older people who really didn't want to go and their entire lives had been left behind, wanted to go back almost immediately. Some of the younger people wanted -- especially if they had younger children -- wanted the situation to stabilize a bit further. It's just the parents wanted to be able to see they were bringing children back to a reasonable situation.

But I think 35% or 40% of the population is not surprising at all. I think at the time we said about a third, we anticipated. But that -- is that what we were --

Mr. Reeker: I think it was, actually.

Ms. Rusch: You were there on the ground. That was just a guess. And virtually all of the evacuees that were placed in the western European countries or in Turkey or elsewhere have gone back.

Question: Well, I guess that's what I was asking is that, you know, most of the western European countries had ways to push them back. If you didn't, you know, did you expect -- did you expect to have 7,000 immigrants as the results of this?

Ms. Rusch: Well, yes. I mean, we went into it -- we were prepared -- had the program run its full course, we were prepared to take 20,000 Kosovars last year, and offer them permanent resettlement. You know, we do this day in and day out under the Refugee Admissions Program, and they were just folded into that. There was no question that these people were refugees.

But the Europeans have a very different approach, and so the Kosovars that were going to those countries were told that they were going there until the situation stabilized at home and they could go home. And there was some opportunity, although not a lot, for refugees to shop for a relocation opportunity.

So I suspect that some -- if everybody was offering temporary resettlement only, may have ended up in a European country. But since the United States and Canada had a more permanent possibility for them, then some of them may have opted for that.

Question: I missed the beginning of this. Could you just remind me how many came and how many have gone home and how many have stayed?

Ms. Rusch: All told, about 14,000 Kosovars came into the United States under the Refugee Admission Program. This is for permanent resettlement. We don't have a mechanism to bring people here temporarily and offer them social welfare benefits. However, only 11,200 of those were eligible for the funded return program. Those are the people who arrived here before July 31st. At that point, we said those who had already been approved but had not yet moved to the U.S.; if you go to the U.S. now and you then decide you want to go home, you're going home under your own steam.

Of the 11,200, over 3,300 have already returned as of today, and we have another 650 or so signed up. And the deadline for registration for the funded return is May 1, 2000 at midnight.

Question: That's registration (inaudible) --

Ms. Rusch: Right. They have to leave by June 15, 2000. This is to allow children to finish school and what not.

Question: That means (inaudible) 7,000, but you don't know how many of those 7,000 may have gone back without your --

Ms. Rusch: That's right. I don't think very many because, why wouldn't they take advantage of the U.S. funding for their return?

Question: Well, this is for the rest of the 7,000 who you think -- roughly 7,000 who are still here and have until May 1, 2000 to sign up?

Ms. Rusch: To sign up. If they want to go back. We're not pushing anybody in any direction. I mean, we accepted them assuming that all of them may stay or some decided they wanted to go back. That was fine, too.

Question: (Inaudible) a year ago said that the presumption is that they would be going back. I can remember Al Gore talking about it.

Ms. Rusch: That's right. That is what the Vice President said, but that isn't what -- because he assumed that people would want to go back to Kosovo, and for 35 percent of them to go back, that's a pretty hefty percentage.

But we never said that we were admitting people in a temporary status because we don't have that option. We have it. The Attorney General has parole authority, but then people arrive here and unless they have some other means of support through a relative or a family or a church group, there's no U.S. Government support for a group of parolees.

Question: Do you have any details on how the 7,000 are doing? I mean, do most of them have jobs?

Ms. Rusch: Oh, yes. Well, there were some expectation issues for some of them, particularly those that had spent some time or were familiar with western European levels of social welfare funding. For the most part, the economy has been so wonderful, not just for this group of refugees but for others coming from everywhere else in the world, that virtually everybody who wants to work is working within the first few months.

Mr. Reeker: Let me just clarify because I bet it will come up so I want to be able to refer them to the transcript. The 20,000 that was authorized was separate and beyond our normal annual refugee intake from other places.

Ms. Rusch: Yes. We had that, but we didn't need to use it all because there was some shortfall in the existing authorization for the refugee program. It gets very complicated. But, yes, we had, no questions asked, the ability to bring in 20,000 and possibly more. But what happened was just as we were getting up a head of steam, moving people to the U.S., things changed in Kosovo. So we had a lot of people that were approved that never came.

Question: But it didn't affect the other approvals; your normal refugee program was doing its usual thing?

Ms. Rusch: No, no, right. Right. We had a major supplemental appropriation and this was covered.

Question: Children floating in innertubes are still --

Ms. Rusch: That was never in the context of the Refugee Admissions Program.

Question: What are the -- do you know anything about whether the 7,000-odd have asked or been able to bring over more family relatives to join them?

Ms. Rusch: Immediate family. If, for example -- and it did happen in a few instances you had a husband who was in Germany and the wife and children ended up here, we would reunite those families. But not much beyond that. Now they would be subject to normal -- if any of those relations -- if there is a husband or an unmarried child under 21 of somebody who has been resettled in the United States, they are eligible to come as refugees. Beyond that, it would be normal immigration. So if somebody wants to bring his or her brother, they have to get in the queue.

It's a lot calmer this spring than it was last.

Question: Perhaps you also said how much the funded return program has cost the United States? If you did, I missed it.

Ms. Rusch: I didn't. I think it's roughly $500 a person. Although, for children and infants, there's some reduction. So something on that order. So 4,000 times $500, $200,000. Or is it $2 million? I always lose --

Question: Two million.

Ms. Rusch: Two million? Okay. Also covered by the supplemental.

Question: Yes. Have they gone back en masse or have they gone back in dribs and drabs commercially?

Ms. Rusch: At the beginning, last August and September, there were some large charters and then it trailed off. And, as would be expected, during the winter months, minimal numbers. And now it is picking up again because -- well, the deadline is drawing near and the weather is better back in Kosovo.

Question: So you are arranging more charters recently or have they --

Ms. Rusch: There was one today that had a couple hundred people.

Question: And they fly to The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, is it?

Ms. Rusch: Yes. And then they are bussed in and taken -- the main buses go to Pristina and then from there IOM arranges their transportation back to their villages.

Mr. Reeker: Okay, any other points?

Ms. Rusch: If anybody wants any of this information. Thank you.

[end of document]

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