Central American Refugees:

Regional Conditions and Prospects and Potential Impact on the United States

NSIAD-84-106: Published: Jul 20, 1984. Publicly Released: Jul 20, 1984.

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GAO evaluated the adequacy and management of refugee assistance programs in Central America and Mexico, focusing on: (1) the programs' relationship to the migration of Central Americans to the United States; (2) refugee and immigration policies of asylum country governments; and (3) the potential impact on the United States of continuing immigration of large numbers of Central Americans.

Most U.S. funds for Central American refugee assistance are channeled through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). GAO found that about one-fourth of the 322,000 Central American refugees are receiving assistance and that the basic needs of most refugees who receive assistance are being met. GAO could not determine whether refugees encamped in Mexico were being adequately assisted because of Mexican government policies restricting access to refugee settlements. While conditions at refugee camps are improving, resettlement opportunities for refugees are limited by asylum country policies and UNHCR program restrictions. Refugees from El Salvador have particular problems; of an estimated 200,000 people who have fled that country in recent years, only 31,000 are receiving assistance in Central American countries, and UNHCR believes that continued strife in El Salvador will cause many more people to flee. GAO also found that the U.S. Government cannot determine the: (1) number of Central Americans entering the country; or (2) social impact of large numbers of Central American refugees or illegal immigrants entering the country. However, plans are being developed to cope with large numbers of Central Americans entering the country illegally.

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