RANGOON — Burmese refugees are among the top five nationalities to be resettled to the United States in 2013, along with Iraqis, Bhutanese, Somalis and Cubans, according to a US announcement on Tuesday.
The US State Department said a total of 69,930 refugees were brought to the United States in the 2012-13 fiscal year, a number closer to the authorized annual ceiling—this year set at 70,000—than in any year since 1980.
A country-specific breakdown of the total refugees resettled in the United States was not provided by the State Department, but the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that 5,258 Burmese refugees were resettled in the United States from January to August this year.
“The United States has a strong tradition of welcoming refugees, many of whom have fled unspeakable horrors and persecution,” the State Department’s statement said. “The Obama administration is committed to maintaining a strong refugee admissions program as an integral component of the government effort to offer protection to some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”
For fiscal year 2013-14, US President Barack Obama has again authorized the admission of up to 70,000 refugees, and the country’s refugee program “expect[s] to admit more than 60 nationalities with continued strong arrivals from Iraq, Burma, and Bhutan.”
“Their presence makes our country more diverse, our culture richer, and our national character stronger,” the statement read, adding that the refugees were resettled in 186 communities across 49 US states.
On Oct. 1, which marked the beginning of the 2013-14 fiscal year in the United States, the US federal government suspended all “nonessential” government services pending resolution of a budget impasse in the US Congress. Last week, The Irrawaddy reported that the country’s refugee resettlement program was among the services affected by the 16-day government shutdown.
A refugee aid program on the Thai-Burma border on Thursday told The Irrawaddy that resettlement flights for refugees had been suspended. A spokesperson from the US Embassy in Rangoon confirmed on Friday that the program had been affected, despite the resolution of the US budget crisis and resumption of services on Oct. 17.
The embassy spokesperson told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the program was back on track.
“We expect the refugee program is continuing as usual now that the shutdown is over,” the official said.
According to the UNHCR, about 87,000 Burmese refugees have been resettled in third countries such as Australia, Canada, Japan and nations of the European Union. The United States accepts the lion’s share, having taken in more than 69,000 Burmese refugees from 2005 to August 2013.