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Diplomacy in Action

A Look Back at 2012

Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
December 20, 2012


Dear Colleagues and Friends,

2012 has been a tough year for humanitarians trying to help displaced people around the world. In addition to aiding people caught up in protracted refugee situations (such as Colombians, Afghans, Palestinians, Somalis and Burmese), a number of crises erupted that prompted millions more people to flee. Here is how PRM has responded:

Syria: 40,000 people have been killed, over 2 million are displaced inside Syria and over half a million people have fled to neighboring countries. The U.S. Government is providing $210 million in humanitarian aid to the region, and our aid is reaching millions. With our partners at USAID, we are using every opportunity to get humanitarian assistance into Syria and help those who have no other option but to flee across borders to safety.

Africa: This year we saw new refugees flee violence and drought in Northern Mali and fighting in Sudan, and even more displacement in the conflict-ravaged eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I traveled with UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, to visit a refugee camp in Burkina Faso for some of those who’ve fled Mali. I also visited the Yida site where Sudanese who have fled fighting in Southern Kordofan reside and the decades-old Kakuma Camp in Kenya, which hosts a mix of refugees from Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and elsewhere in Africa. In each place I was following the footsteps of PRM staff members who engage in emergency response and routinely carry out monitoring and evaluation visits to ensure U.S.-funded aid is well spent and reaching the people who need it.

Afghanistan: PRM helped repatriate and reintegrate over 83,000 Afghans who returned home this year. We formalized the handover of NGO-run health clinics to the Ministry of Health. We also support UNHCR’s Solution Strategy for Afghan Refugees, which works with Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to protect refugees until they can return home safely and voluntarily and to find permanent homes for them when they do return.

Refugee Resettlement: Thanks to the combined efforts of several U.S. government agencies working diligently early in 2012, security screening processes were refined to ensure that bona fide refugees are allowed into the United States. The three millionth refugee admitted to the United States since 1975 arrived in February. The number of refugees admitted in fiscal year 2012 surpassed the previous year. And we are on track to admit 70,000 refugees in fiscal year 2013. We have also returned the admissions program to a more even pace of arrivals: twenty-five percent of refugees expected in fiscal year 2013 will arrive in the first quarter of the year.

Balkans: With the active support of our embassies in the region, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary David Robinson led efforts to find permanent homes for 74,000 people displaced during the 1991-1995 armed conflicts in the Balkans. He participated in an international donor’s conference in Sarajevo in April that raised funding for the groundbreaking Regional Housing Program that will help bring a close to long-standing refugee and displacement issues in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro.

Burma and Bangladesh: In an unprecedented move, Secretary Clinton asked deputy assistant secretaries from four State Department bureaus – two regional (dealing with East Asia and South Asia) and two functional (dealing with human rights and ours managing refugee programs) – to travel to Burma and Bangladesh and assess the aftermath of ethno-sectarian violence between the Rohingya and Rahkine Communities in Burma’s Rakhine State and prospects for future peaceful coexistence. Deputy Assistant Secretary Kelly Clements was an essential member of that team.

Women, youth and children: PRM led the U.S. delegation to the 45th session of the UN Commission on Population and Development in April and secured a resolution addressing the sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescents and youth and their human rights. PRM spearheaded a successful effort in the UN Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution on “The Right to a Nationality” for women and children. PRM also designed and launched a renewed initiative to train all PRM staff about preventing and detecting sexual exploitation and abuse of refugees and others who are in need of help. This initiative will also improve PRM monitoring techniques to stop any such abuse in the field.

Migration: In addition to multiple trips to Africa to review the response to emergencies in the Horn and Great Lakes regions, Deputy Assistant Secretary Catherine Wiesner has led several delegations to important international conferences on migration issues.1 The United States, led by PRM, has played an important role in these forums to advance humanitarian goals and ensure that the voices of NGOs and the advocacy community are heard.

I am grateful for the incredible dedication, passion and energy that the professionals within PRM have for their work. I am very proud to lead them. Of course, none of the good work that we have done would have been possible without the funding and support that Congress provides. We also have benefited from solid and productive working relationships with other offices at the State Department involved in various aspects of civilian security and humanitarian issues and with colleagues at USAID, particularly its Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance.

What will 2013 bring? My wish -- perhaps a naïve one -- is that we will see peace and stability return to one or more of the globe’s hotspots in the coming months. UNHCR has been able to return hundreds of thousands of refugees to Angola and Liberia in recent years, so I would like to see thousands more return home to other countries safely in the year ahead. Will the political reforms in Burma take root to a degree that refugees will decide to return? What about Somalia, where al Shabaab is currently in retreat? How long will it take to achieve calm and repair the terrible damage that is being done in places like Syria and northern Mali?

In my travels this year, I’ve been impressed by the performance of partners that are saving lives and relieving pain and misery. I’ve been frustrated that we are not always able to respond quickly or sufficiently to enormous suffering. And I’ve been moved by the ability of ordinary people to survive and overcome the most adverse circumstances, to the point where they can smile and share a laugh, or, in the midst of poverty, offer a stranger a cup of tea, or introduce their children with love and pride in their voices.

As 2012 draws to a close, thank you for your continuing interest in and support for our work.

Best regards,
Anne C. Richard
Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration

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