OVER 13 million refugees struggle to survive today in camps around the world, most forced to flee their homes by civil war and violence. An equal or greater number have been displaced within their own homelands. Their needs are rising much faster than available resources, says United States Refugee Coordinator Jonathan Moore.
The United States is feeling the pinch. From 1985 to 1988, US contributions to the three largest international refugee relief agencies dropped by one quarter, US officials say, while monies to resettle refugees in the US have barely kept up with the demand.
``In a period of increased competition for limited resources, our society must find ways to give greater priority to truly disparate humanitarian assistance needs abroad,'' says Mr. Moore. ``Refugee problems are not peripheral, but integral, to US foreign policy,'' he says. ``Affirmative attention to them [serves] our most precious ideals and our most critical political and security interests.''
There is a refugee population associated with most major US foreign policy questions, officials say. FOR example, because of progress in US-Soviet relations, Secretary of State George Shultz will shortly consult with Congress on the first emergency increase in authorized refugee admission numbers since 1980.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has loosened emigration controls on Soviet Armenians and Jews, in line with longstanding urging by the US. The unforeseen flow, however, is swamping US refugee admissions.
On April 6, President Reagan authorized consultations to win congressional support for 15,000 additional refugee admissions this year to absorb the new Soviet immigrants. But if the numbers are approved, $30 million to fund their arrival and resettlement still has to be found in an already-stretched budget.
US diplomatic success in Afghanistan will also demand new refugee funds this year. Up to 7 million refugees will begin migrating back to their devastated home regions from Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan's cities.
How will this flow be managed to avoid disaster? How will the international community pay the estimated $500 million to $600 million it may cost to prevent refugees from starving and to give them a start at rebuilding? US and United Nations planners are grappling with these questions.
While Afghanistan involves nearly half of the world's refugees, needs continue to grow elsewhere. The number of Vietnamese refugees fleeing by boat to Thailand tripled last year, while the US and other countries were considering cuts in the numbers of Southeast Asian refugees they accept.
In January, Thailand began to crack down on the influx, and up to two hundred people died as the Thais pushed refugee boats away from their shores. Such calamities could be repeated, specialists say.
The number of refugees worldwide increased about 1.7 million in 1987, says Court Robinson of the US Committee for Refugees. Most of the new refugees were fleeing war and famine in Mozambique, Sudan, and Afghanistan. Many, especially those in Africa, are in desperate need of basic assistance to survive. But budgetary austerity and congressional earmarks forced the US to cut its funds for aiding such refugees by 9 percent in fiscal year 1988.
Ambassador Moore says the US faces acute shortages in funds for both refugees coming to the US and for those who have no intention of coming here. The massive need, however, is to help the estimated 95 to 98 percent of refugees in the world who have no chance of resettling anywhere but back in their native regions - when and if that is possible.
The question of refugees coming to the US ``gets more attention because it is so politically intimate and because it combines foreign policy and domestic policy,'' Moore says.
``These people settle in our communities and they want their families to be brought in or to be taken care of abroad.'' In periods of budget austerity, assistance to refugees coming to the US tends to get priority, he says.
This is what happened in this year's budget, Mr. Robinson says. Funding for refugees coming to the US was increased with parts earmarked for certain programs by Congress, while aid for refugees not destined for resettlement was cut.
``Despite the crucial importance of admissions, in terms of raw desperate needs, [aid for refugees not coming to the US] is even more important,'' says Moore. Given the funding shortfall, he notes, it is likely this year that the US will give much less to emergency appeals for aid to African refugees, for example, than it has traditionally provided.
Other officials say US funds for emergency aid that once totaled $50 million have dwindled to $12 million and will probably be expended before the end of this year. Robinson says the administration has not sought to replenish the emergency fund in its fiscal 1989 budget, apparently because of austerity pressures. He warns that this would leave the US no flexibility to respond quickly to human catastrophes, with potentially ``tragic consequences.''
On refugees coming to the US, the administration is seeking to accommodate the upsurge in Soviet emigration. In the last quarter of 1987, more than 1,400 Soviet Armenians a month were applying at the US Embassy in Moscow for refugee status. Embassy resources were strained to the limits trying to process requests before the applicants' six-month Soviet exit visas expired.
Simultaneously, Jewish emigration jumped to about 800 a month; about 70 percent of these end up in the US rather than Israel.
By Dec. 31, more than one-third of the yearly total for East European refugees had been used, with three-fourths of the fiscal year yet to go and the prospect of rising demands. Some officials privately question whether the Armenian emigrants are political or economic refugees. But after years of urging the Soviets to let citizens emigrate freely and, since world War II, accepting virtually anyone from the Soviet Union as a refugee, Washington could not impose limits, officials say.
Nor could the administration take refugee numbers from other regions, they add. Southeast Asia is the only region with comparable numbers, but a cut there would have endangered hundreds or thousands of refugees with expulsion from their countries of first asylum, private specialists say.
The budget and number crunch will be even greater next year, officials say. The administration is requesting a total of 68,500 refugee slots, the same as this year before the supplemental request. However, the Office of Management and Budget assigned enough domestic funds to resettle only 51,000 refugees.