Victims of Natural Disasters in U.S. Refugee Law and Policy

This note reviews the history and antecedents of subsection 203(a)(7)(B), suggests explanations for its repeal, and explores alternative relief for the individuals who might formerly have benefited from it. It is presumed that some victims of natural disasters have a need for refuge equal to that of the refugee fleeing persecution. This is not to say that every “catastrophic natural calamity,” as the now defunct statutory formulation put it, produces victims requiring the extraordinary relief of asylum. Yet, when the disaster constitutes a continuing threat to human life, and aid to the stricken area cannot restore an acceptable standard of living, then the distinction between natural disaster victims and refugees fearing persecution becomes arbitrary and inhumane. The humanitarian underpinnings of a special provision for persons in life-threatening situations apply regardless of the source of that threat.