Today, Representatives Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) and Steve Stivers (R-OH), along with 37 of their colleagues in Congress, sent the following letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, urging the State Department to re-establish Ahiska (Meskhetian) Turks -- a distinct minority in Southern Russia -- as a group of "special humanitarian concern" for Priority-Two (P-2) processing for refugee status. (Please also find below and attached a copy of the letter).
Joining Hastings and Stivers as co-signers of the letter were (37): Reps. Mark Amodei, Earl Blumenauer, André Carson, Steve Chabot, Steve Cohen, Tom Cole, Gerald Connolly, John A. Culberson, Lloyd Doggett, Virginia Fox, Alan Grayson, Tim Griffin, Richard Hanna, Hakeem Jeffries, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Bill Johnson, David Joyce, Adam Kinzinger, Leonard Lance, John Lewis, Daniel Lipinski, Mark Meadows, Luke Messer, James Moran, Bill Pascrell, Scott Perry, Dutch Ruppersberger, Tim Ryan, Matt Salmon, Pete Sessions, Bill Shuster, Adam Smith, Steve Stockman, Michael Turner, Greg Walden, Ed Whitfield, and Joe Wilson.
January 27, 2014
The Honorable John Kerry
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Kerry:
We write to urge the U.S. Department of State to re-establish Ahiska (Meskhetian) Turks, a distinct minority in Southern Russia, as a group of "special humanitarian concern" for Priority-Two (P-2) processing for refugee status.
For nearly 70 years, the Ahiska Turkish community has faced statelessness, discrimination, and violent attacks in the former Soviet Union. Although the Ahiska Turkish diaspora, particularly in the United States, and various organizations have long advocated for resettlement assistance, the international community remains largely unresponsive. Most recently, media reports indicate that the Ahiska Turkish community is again being actively and severely persecuted as a distinct minority group in Southern Russia at every socio-economic and political level because of their ethnicity and religion, and we are concerned that the P-2 status, initiated in 2003 for Ahiska Turks, has been interrupted.
As you may know, under the P-2 status, nearly 12,000 Ahiska Turks came to the United States between 2004 and 2007, settling in Ohio, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Pennsylvania, New York, Oregon, Missouri, Kentucky, Texas, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Virginia, and many other states. This resilient community has been able to fully integrate into American society, and has proven itself to be a great asset in their new home states by becoming entrepreneurs and creating opportunities for others.
Unfortunately, issues of human rights and the ethnic persecution of Ahiska Turks in Russia remain serious concerns. An October 2013 report by the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance, which dedicates a section to Ahiska (Meskhetian) Turks, indicated the situation in Southern Russia remains "very bad" for ethnic minorities. The report also goes on to explain that human rights organizations' efforts to monitor and report on the situation have been met with "hostility by the authorities, including criminal investigations and prosecutions."
Given the current human rights situation in Russia, especially continued reports of rising discrimination and harassment against certain minority groups, we fear that the conditions will not likely improve in the near future. Therefore, we believe it is time to reinstitute P-2 status for Ahiska Turks and continue to implement a successful refugee program that has not only improved the lives of refugees, but also enriched the communities they joined.
We appreciate your prompt attention to our request and look forward to your reply regarding the restoration of P-2 status to Ahiska Turks.