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Diplomacy in Action

Migration and Displacement

Anne C. Richard
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
Brookings Institute
Washington, DC
May 7, 2013


Date: 05/07/2013 Description: Assistant Secretary Richard speaks with Justin Manhart. - State Dept Image Ambassador Claude Wild, Special Rapporteur Beyani, friends and colleagues, old friends like Ted Picone and many friends in the audience, let me begin by thanking the Swiss government and Brookings for sponsoring this event. A few minutes ago I was talking on Capitol Hill about refugees who are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender or Intersex conditions, and so if I suddenly start talking about that here, somebody raise your hand and say “Anne, you’ve mixed up the pages of your speeches again” because the subject today is about migration and displacement.

Ambassador Wild recently hosted me in Bern where I learned a great deal about how the Swiss take a whole-of-government approach to integrating migration and development. I would like to spend a few minutes this afternoon talking about the issues, really the crises that take up the bulk of my days in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, or PRM, and what we are doing to address these situations. I will then talk a bit about some other important policy work PRM is doing, including our preparations for the High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development.

As all of you are no doubt aware, responding to the humanitarian disaster created by the crisis in Syria stands as PRM’s top priority. In addition to Syria, we are also dealing with a number of new refugee crises and displacements in Africa. This includes people fleeing violence in northern Mali who have yet to go home, refugees crossing the border from Sudan into South Sudan, and continued violencein Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo that also has generated refugees. How are we doing in responding to these crises?

The scale of the Syria crisis is truly challenging with 1.3 million refugees, 4.25 million Syrians displaced inside their own country and millions more affected by the violence. The generosity of the countries bordering Syria has been inspiring but governments, families, social services, and civic organizations are being strained to the breaking point to accommodate new arrivals. The United States Government is proud to be the leading donor to the Syria humanitarian response, State Department and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) contributions total nearly $409 million to date, with additional funding coming in the near future. But these contributions do not get aid workers access to all of the displaced inside Syria who need help. Nor does aid protect those who are being bombed and massacred by their own government. This is a tremendously frustrating situation. Despite lots of hard work, many many more people are displaced today than were a year ago.

Meanwhile, in Mali, conflict in the north has resulted in nearly 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and nearly 180,000 refugees in neighboring countries. The U.S. government has provided over $120 million through international and non-governmental organizations for Malian refugees and IDPs. Interestingly, this new refugee crisis has roots in Libya and the Tuareg fighters who returned to Mali from Libya in the aftermath of the revolution and migration crisis there. It is a good reminder to be alert to the after-effects of “crisis migration” which I will address in greater details in a minute.

We continue to support protection and assistance for refugees from Darfur who have fled to eastern Chad. More recently, however, our attention has been focused on conflict along Sudan’s southern border and the 230,000 Sudanese refugees who have fled to neighboring South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya over the past two years. PRM has provided over $50 million to meet the emergency needs of these refugees.

In addition to our assistance to refugees, PRM’s humanitarian mandate also covers Internally Displaced Persons or IDPs. Sudden emergencies draw our attention away from long-term, protracted crises, such as that in Colombia, where decades of fighting between the Government of Colombia (GOC) and illegal armed groups – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), (these are all your buddies Ted, right? ) paramilitaries and criminal narco-trafficking networks – have forced millions of civilians to flee their homes.

In 2012, the GOC announced that it had registered 4.8 million IDPs since 1997, which is nearly ten percent of Colombia’s population. Later this month I plan to travel to Colombia for a first-hand look at our programs assisting IDPs.

The recently enacted Victims and Land Restitution Law provides a legal framework for comprehensive assistance, fair reparation, and land restitution to IDPs and victims of the conflict. UNHCR is helping the government improve its capacity to assist IDPs directly. ICRC has been able to restructure its programs to work in areas that are underserved. Could this long-running displacement crisis come to an end? We are cautiously optimistic but much needs to be done.

That’s one reason I am going there, is because we don’t want the exploding crisis in Syria to drown out any kind of discussion about other protracted crisis that are out of the news and then any kind of progress that the U.S. could be involved in or could help stimulate towards people going home.

In coordination with our USAID colleagues, the U.S. Government continues to support humanitarian organizations working in major IDP countries such as Syria, DRC, Sudan, and Iraq, and elsewhere. It is an uphill challenge: the latest global estimates suggest that more than 6 million new IDPs fled their homes last year alone. As you will no doubt note from this list, these major IDP countries are also significant sources of refugees who are subject to international protection via the Refugee Convention. Protection is not legally extended to IDPs. You can imagine the challenges these differences pose to governments and human rights advocates like our colleague the Special Representative on human rights of IDPs. An individual’s right to redress may, at times, be dependent upon the side of a border to which a person moves after being uprooted.

Despite the necessity of attending closely to crises, PRM is also doing important policy work, including our preparations for the High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development that will take place at the United Nations in early October. The High Level Dialogue is a good opportunity to take stock on where we and other countries stand on international migration. It is a chance to examine ways to enhance the well-being of migrants and consider measures that all countries, developed and developing, can agree upon. We are working closely within the U.S. government with other agencies to identify issues we hope to advance during the High Level Dialogue.

One area that may be ripe for discussion is supporting the protection of migrant workers' rights and "core" labor standards, such as freedom from forced labor, freedom from exploitative child labor and freedom from discrimination. We can promote freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Another area that we all should be able to agree upon is maintaining robust human rights protections for migrants such as:

o Promoting measures to counter human trafficking;

o Strengthening measures to combat xenophobia and hate crimes; and

o Acknowledging that many women are migrants and seeking ways to protect women and girls, who are especially vulnerable to human trafficking and other abuses.

Last fall, I became concerned when negotiations on the High Level Dialogue Modalities Resolution got bogged down in New York with unproductive arguments over UN institutional and procedural issues. We will lose a good chance to advance the migration agenda if discussions continue along those lines. While there seems to be a sense among some in New York that international migration issues pit the developed versus developing countries, this does not have to be the case.

According to the World Bank, in 2012 forty-four percent of international migration was “south-to-south” migration. What that says to me is that developed and developing countries have more in common as migrant-receiving countries than many might realize.

A few months later after this Modalities Resolution breakdown, in February, I co-chaired at the UN with Mexico’s Permanent Representative, Ambassador Luis Alfonso De Alba an International Organization for Migration-sponsored roundtable on the human rights of migrants. This event was well-received, with a big turn-out, and showed that our two countries, which were on opposite sides of the modalities debate, can come together to discuss and identify areas of mutual concern.

One topic that interests me and that I think all countries can rally around is the issue of migrants in crisis. Special Representative to the UN Secretary General for Migration and Development, Peter Sutherland, has championed this issue.

Migration crises can arise from a number of circumstances. In the last few years,

we have seen significant migration and displacement as a result of:

a. The Haiti earthquake

b. Recent flooding in Thailand

c. Natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy here in the U.S.

d. Nuclear disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima

e. And of course violence and civil unrest as in Libya and Syria

These crises produced large migrant outflows, affecting migrant sending, transit and receiving countries. They also created large numbers of IDPs, some of whom may later become migrants, and they do not fit well within existing legal, policy and operational frameworks for the protection of refugees and IDPs. They require whole-of-government approaches in response to these kinds of crises. And that was one reason we were looking at the whole-of-government approach that the Swiss have adopted.

Humanitarian assistance as PRM provides is just one small part of this response. It would be great if the High Level Dialogue could spark a discussion about how we might improve procedures to protect migrants caught in these situations.

I have the sense I am probably going a little too long here. So let me throw out some questions and we have potential responses:

o What are the roles of sending, transit and destination countries in assisting migrants stranded as a result of one of these sudden onset situations?

o What roles should governments, international organizations, employers, and civil society play?

o Are there some underlying principles we can agree to such as not discriminating in the delivery of disaster relief to migrants on the basis of whether they are documented or undocumented?

o Are there best practices out there or can we agree to what best practices we should encourage sending, transit and destination countries to adopt?

In our discussions inside PRM, what we are focusing on is preparedness, what governments can do and should do ahead of time; establishing immigration policies and operational tool kits that prevent unexpected migration flows as a consequence of crises; a strong foundation in protection principles, and this completely comes out of our work with refugees and it makes perfect sense to me that would be important for an effective and humane response for crisis-induced movements. And finally, coordination on many fronts is critical for an effective migration response: coordination within governments and effective international coordination.

These are just some ideas to begin considering. There are many international migration ideas ripe for progress. I hope the High Level Dialogue will allow us to discuss these issues frankly and collegially with an eye towards improving the lives of those who make the decision to migrate and their families, while ensuring countries of origin and destination receive the full benefits of migration.

Thank you.

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