Dear Friends and Colleagues:
I wanted to brief you on the Obama administration’s efforts to respond to the crisis in the Horn of Africa. With more than 12 million people in need in the region, this is the most serious and severe humanitarian emergency in the world today.
On August 8, I was in Nairobi and the Dadaab refugee camp near the Somali border with Dr. Jill Biden, Senator Bill Frist, USAID Administrator Raj Shah, and Gayle Smith, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director at the National Security Council for Global Development. It was my second visit to Dadaab as Assistant Secretary, and the condition of newly arriving refugees, many of whom are near death when they reach the camp, was overwhelming – and provided stark evidence of the drought’s dramatic impact.
Although some 8 million are suffering in Kenya and Ethiopia due to cyclical drought, the most seriously impacted populations are in Somalia. Some 3.7 million people are in need of food aid throughout the country, and the majority live in areas under the control of al-Shabaab, a terrorist organization that has thwarted efforts to deliver assistance and threatened, attacked and killed humanitarian aid workers. In fact, the areas under al-Shabaab control include parts of Bakool, Lower Shabelle and Middle Shabelle, the three regions declared by the UN to be facing famine conditions.
The United States has joined the international community, including the Arab League and the people of Somalia, in calling on al-Shabaab to allow unfettered delivery of humanitarian aid. At the same time, working with a broad range of international partners, the United States has pursued a range of options to ensure aid is delivered inside the country – including in difficult-to-access areas. So far this year, we have provided about $102 million of assistance within Somalia, the bulk of which has come from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Our aid is helping to feed 1.7 million people in Somalia and treat tens of thousands of severely malnourished Somalis countrywide. Our funds also provide voucher and cash-for-work programs, health care, clean water, proper sanitation, and hygiene education and supplies. And the United States is working to improve long-term opportunities for Somali communities, especially youth and women.
To be sure, suffering in Somalia will continue as long as there is civil conflict, but there is no question that effective humanitarian interventions have the potential to save and safeguard the lives of millions of people. It is critical that the United States and other governments, as well as the American public and civil society around the world, continue to support this aid effort.
And that effort goes well beyond Somalia. The civil war in Somalia, coupled with cyclical drought, continues to exacerbate the already dramatic refugee situation in the region. There are currently over 890,000 Somali refugees in the greater Horn: 498,000 in Kenya; 192,000 in Yemen; 161,000 in Ethiopia; 19,000 in Uganda; 18,000 in Djibouti; 4,500 in Eritrea; and 1,800 in Tanzania. This includes some 235,000 new arrivals from January to July alone. In addition, thousands more refugees are living in urban settings across the region.
Dr. Jill Biden and former Sen. Bill Frist visit with two recently arrived refugee families
at the Dagahaley refugee camp, in Dadaab, Kenya, Aug. 8, 2011.
Official White House Photo by David Lieneman
Kenya hosts the largest number of refugees in the Horn, with the vast majority residing in two refugee camp complexes, Dadaab (in the east) and Kakuma (in the northwest). During Dr. Biden’s visit to Nairobi, our delegation met with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. We thanked them for the continued generosity of the people and the Government of Kenya for their willingness to provide refuge to Somalis, even as they themselves are faced with the worst drought in 60 years, and we assured them of the continued support of the United States. We emphasized that even as we seek to enhance our efforts to provide assistance within Somalia, sustaining the option of first asylum in Kenya remains a critical humanitarian imperative. In this respect, we welcome news that refugees are now able to access recently added extensions to the Dadaab complex, and that an additional camp in the area is under development.
Even before the current humanitarian crisis, Dadaab was the largest refugee camp in the world. Some refugee families have lived in Dadaab for two decades, including over 6,000 third generation refugees – children born of parents who have never set foot in their home countries. The protracted nature of the region’s refugee situations also creates its own vulnerability: refugees may be at risk of recruitment by armed groups or tempted to pursue onward migration through unsafe means (to Europe and the Middle East) when faced with the dearth of opportunities in the refugee camps for education and employment.
Earlier this year, the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) coordinated the launch of the U.S. government’s Protracted Refugee Strategy, which focuses on a number of refugee situations around the world, including those involving Somalis in Kenya. In the first instance, the goal of the worldwide strategy is to promote durable solutions for individuals and families who have spent many years in refugee camps. And even in those situations where durable solutions are not yet possible, the objective is to make life more livable for these refugees.
In the camps in Kenya, we have sought to encourage increased access to livelihoods and vocational training and increased land allocation in Dadaab. We have also focused on other efforts to improve the living conditions of Somali refugees, along with continuing third country resettlement for those who are most in need of that solution.
During my visit to Dadaab, I had a short meeting with a young woman named Ebla that reaffirmed my conviction about the wisdom of this approach. Ebla grew up in Dadaab, after her family left Somalia when she was a child. She speaks excellent English and calls herself a product of Dadaab schooling. In addition to her studies in the camp schools, Ebla was among the few refugees to be given the opportunity for higher education outside of the camp. She received a certificate in English in Nairobi. Now she’s giving back to her community through her work as a facilitator for an NGO in the camp and as a volunteer. Moved by the condition of recently arrived refugees, she is focused on trying to assist them.
This week, my Deputy, Reuben Brigety, is in Addis Ababa discussing a range of humanitarian issues with government officials, international organization representatives and U.S. Ambassadors within the region, and this protracted refugee question will be on the agenda.
Finally, let me return to the issue of the response to the current crisis, to note that we are also focusing on the needs of women and girls in this emergency – as we do throughout the world. In both Kenya and Ethiopia, newly arriving refugees face the threat of rape and other forms of exploitation and abuse. Women also need access to life-saving reproductive and maternal health care. Despite important gains achieved through efforts over the years to empower refugee women and girls in the region, the recent influx of new refugees is posing acute challenges that require additional resources. Along with teams from PRM and USAID, I conferred on these issues recently with Deputy USAID Administrator Don Steinberg who has long been one of the leading proponents of the empowerment of women in humanitarian settings. We will be augmenting our support for programs designed to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, as well as identifying more ways to minimize risk – such as by pressing our partners to prioritize this and exploring expanded access to safe cooking fuel.
In mid-August the International Organization for Migration (IOM) began
transporting exhausted refugees to the Dadaab camps after they crossed
the border – a distance of over 30 miles.
Photo by PRM Program Officer Bryan Schaaf, August 18, 2011
As we have seen so graphically across the region, humanitarian crises and human suffering demand immediate and generous responses. The United States – alongside the international community – is working to save as many lives as possible, but more must be done. As the largest donor to the region, the United States is now providing approximately $600 million to meet ongoing and urgent humanitarian needs.
I assure you that bureaus and agencies across the U.S. government are seized with doing all we can to provide live-saving assistance to the Horn of Africa. I’ll keep you informed of any new efforts or initiatives as they develop.
If you’d like to support these efforts, you can visit www.usaid.gov, to contribute to organizations involved in relief efforts.
Many thanks, and kind regards,
Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration