They may not qualify as refugees: To resettle in the United States, refugees need a card from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, certifying that they are refugees. But refugees must apply for that card, and many never do. The U.N. refugee agency also denies some applications. Sometimes, it determines that the people who applied are “economic migrants” who left their home country for financial reasons, rather than for their own safety. “Internally displaced persons,” who fled their homes but remain in their home country, don’t qualify for resettlement, either, and they make up the largest number of people worldwide who have been driven from their homes.
They may not want to come: People who work with refugees overseas say that for refugees from Burma who remain in camps in Thailand, most simply don’t want to move to America. “If they haven’t applied for resettlement, chances are they simply just want to go home,” said Christine Petrie of the International Rescue Committee’s Thailand office. Others seem satisfied to remain in refugee camps. Others don’t resettle in a third country because family members refuse to join them.
They may be stuck in the queue: The U.N. reported there were 16.1 million refugees worldwide at the end of 2015, and that resettlement would be the best option for 1.2 million of them. But last year, only 107,100 resettled in one of the few countries that welcome refugees. Those numbers dictate that practically every refugee who applies for resettlement must wait a few years.
They may not be healthy enough: The U.N. conducts a health assessment before recommending refugees for resettlement, and the United States requires a health assessment, too. Refugees with highly contagious diseases or debilitating conditions are generally not recommended for resettlement. “If granny has TB scars, the whole family can get delayed,” said Sally Thompson, executive director of the Thai-Burma Border Consortium, which runs 10 refugee camps in Thailand.
They may not pass the security screening: The U.N. compiles a biography of every refugee who applies for resettlement and recommends that only a small percentage of them move to America or another welcoming country. If the U.N. recommends that a refugee be resettled in the United States, the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department will perform security checks on that refugee. Those with connections to terror groups or serious criminal records are disqualified. Refugees then must pass two more security screens: a U.S. Customs and Immigration Services interview and a biometric security check in which refugee fingerprints are checked against terror watch lists.