The 1951 Refugee Convention which established the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, defines a refugee as someone who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country." While Jonas in The Book of Jonas, does not fit this definition exactly, he was indeed seeking refuge in the United States from the fighting that killed his family, and he could not safely stay in his home country. Once in the United States, Jonas makes friends with other refugees - a sub-culture of people running from horrors elsewhere - in his high school and later in college.
The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 was enacted in the U.S. to help victims of Nazi persecution. The act allowed more than 250,000 displaced Europeans to settle in the U.S. after World War II. The Refugee Act of 1980 standardized treatment of refugees from all countries, necessary after decades of temporary provisions for various immigrations from Communist Europe and Asia in the 1950s, Cuba in the 1960s, and Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War. Annual admission rates have ranged from a high of 207,000 in 1980, to a low of 27,100 in 2002. In 2011, more than 56,000 refugees arrived in the U.S. from all over the world.
In the United States, three government agencies are involved in processing refugees - Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of State. Usually working with the United Nations, several nongovernmental organizations and thousands of volunteers, these three agencies screen applicants before they come and provide for their care once they get here.
This article was originally published in September 2012, and has been updated for the
February 2013 paperback release.
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