There are a series of issues I’d like to address today, ranging from refugee crises overseas to our own domestic programs that resettle refugees in America and help them to rebuild their lives.
I want to update you on the latest actions of the Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration during what is proving to be a busy time. I’ve been told you all have a special interest in developments in Africa, so I will spend a few extra minutes on African refugee issues.
Devastating overseas emergencies are pushing more and more refugees from their homes, and the United States plays a leading role in responding to these emergencies.
Our overall approach to responding to these crises will remain consistent: working multilaterally with international organization partners such as the UN Refugee Agency (or UNHCR), the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Organization for Migration; focusing on protection and finding safe places for refugees to re-start their lives; and burden-sharing with host governments as well as other donor governments.
We will also continue to look to aid agencies that serve as our partners to augment the international response.
PRM is dealing with a major refugee crisis in the Middle East at the same time as a number of new refugee and displacement crises in Africa.
These include people fleeing violence in northern Mali who have yet to get to go home, refugees crossing the border from Sudan into South Sudan, and continued violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. How are we doing in responding to these crises?
In Syria, more than 70,000 are dead, 1.4 millon people are refugees and millions more displaced or hurt inside Syria. We applaud the generosity of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq for hosting the Syrian refugees who have crossed onto their territory. I have visited each of these countries, met with Syrian refugees, and sought help for them from senior government officials. Much is being done but, quite frankly, the daunting scale of this crisis is challenging everyone involved. Inside Syria, along with USAID, we support efforts to get aid to those who need it despite shifting battle-lines.
At the same time as this major crisis grips the headlines, the conflict in the north of Mali has resulted in nearly 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and nearly 180,000 refugees in neighboring countries.
Last Fall, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and I traveled to Damba refugee camp in Burkina Faso, just 50 kilometers from the Mali border. Part of our mission was to draw attention to the crisis, so we appeared all over the newspapers and airwaves in Ouagadougou and then repeated ourselves before the media and diplomats of Geneva.
Prospects for peace in Mali are hard to gauge, but this crisis has not been forgotten. Yesterday, a donors conference was held in Brussels for Mali and at that conference there was an understanding that there needs to be more development in that country, especially in the north. The US announced another $32 million, bringing total US funding through international and non-governmental organization for Malian refugees and IDPs to more than $180 million.
On July 1st, the UN will start bringing in MINUSMA 11,200 peacekeeping troops and more than 1400 police. MINUSMA will subsume the African-led AFISMA mission that was set up last September – essentially many MINUSMA troops will be West African peacekeepers who are already on the ground. A separate French strike force will remain to deal with extremists and terrorists. Elections are scheduled for July 28th.
And suffering in Sudan has not abated. You are all familiar with the Darfur situation. 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 these emergency needs through UNHCR and its partners.
At the same time, in Eastern Congo, violence has driven new waves of Congolese refugees from their homes … and we will need to continue to work to help them.
Thanks to continued strong support from Congress this fiscal year, PRM will maintain its leadership role in responding to the needs of refugees worldwide, including efforts to assist refugees to return home voluntarily in safety and dignity when conditions permit-- like the 70,000 Congolese who were able to go back to the Democratic Republic of the Congo from neighboring Congo-Brazzaville.
When I was in Kenya this past year, I was asked about the possibility for Somalis to return. Even as some voluntary return may be possible, it is vital that refugees continue to find safety in Kenya given the volatile security situation and scarcity of food inside Somalia.
Even as some 80% of Somali refugees indicate on surveys that they are willing to repatriate if peace returns to Somalia, more than 60,000 new Somali refugees have fled to neighboring countries so far this year.
When return home isn’t possible, we also support local integration in host communities. For example, some 160,000 1972-era Burundi refugees were initially offered Tanzanian citizenship in 2009 and accepted. Some political work needs to be done but the initiative on the part of the Tanzanian Government is a model that may provide valuable lessons on local integration that could be applied to other long-term refugee situations around the world.
Let’s now turn our attention back to our own country, the United States. As all of you here today know, the United States is also the world’s leading resettlement country, admitting more refugees each year than all other resettlement countries combined – more than three million since 1975.
And we all know that our own communities have been as enriched by these newcomers as they have been by the opportunities this country has provided them.
Our overall resettlement policy remains the same: we will continue to strive to achieve the President’s refugee admissions ceiling, focusing on the most vulnerable who cannot go home or be integrated in their country of first asylum.
The PRM Bureau has gone to extraordinary lengths in the past year to reach refugees in need of resettlement who were previously inaccessible because of dangerous conditions in the places where they had sought asylum. In Kenya, UNHCR has referred thousands of Somalis in the Dadaab camp for U.S. resettlement. Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security was unable to interview them because it was determined to be too risky to send DHS officers to Dadaab.
Last year, we provided additional funding to build a transit center in Kakuma camp, where conditions are safer, and have moved close to 1,000 individuals from Dadaab to Kakuma to continue the process for U.S. resettlement. Another 900 will be moved to Kakuma in the next week. These refugees, many of whom have been living in Dadaab for more than 20 years, will start arriving in the United States this month.
Many of you know by now that UNHCR has announced its intention to refer up to 50,000 Congolese for resettlement over the next five years. Most will likely come to the United States. Given the level of trauma and need among this population, we want to work together with all of you to do this right.
That’s why we’ve formed a working group to bring together partners from all across the spectrum – overseas and domestic, government, International Organizations, and NGOs – to see how we can better prepare the refugees and communities for successful resettlement.
Late last year the Government of Chad contacted UNHCR to say it had changed its policy and would be open to the resettlement to other countries of refugees from Darfur who have been living in Eastern Chad. PRM staff traveled to Chad in February to look into this possibility. My colleagues are cautiously optimistic and we will be reporting more on this to you in the coming weeks and months.
Working closely with the Department of Homeland Security, we re-instated the priority three or “P-3” family reunion program this year with a new DNA requirement to ensure that the program is fulfilling its purpose of reuniting relatives.
I’m pleased to report that we are on track to admit the number of refugees in the Presidential Determination this year. That is 70,000 refugees– a more than 20% increase over last year’s number.
You should also know that we’ve been able to admit these refugees in a much more even pace than in recent years. Just under 50% of the refugees we expect this year were admitted in the first half of the fiscal year.
We recognize that this increase comes at a time of shrinking state and local budgets, cuts in social services, and the challenges of raising private contributions. As you know, PRM has helped deal with economic challenges to the program by doubling the amount of funding provided on a per capita basis to receive and place refugees in 2010. We have provided modest increases since then.
We also are providing “floor funding” to our resettlement agency partners, essentially guaranteeing sufficient funding for services to 60,000 refugees so that program managers can plan and hire staff with the assurance that the funding will be there.
Despite all these improvements, we know that many refugees are still struggling in the early weeks and months of their arrival in the States. This leads me to ask: How can our domestic programs best address the needs of refugees? What more can we do to help refugees effectively integrate into new communities?
Given the overall budget situation in Washington, we all acknowledge the need to widen the circle of domestic “stakeholders” in the refugee resettlement program. We need to ensure a warm reception for the refugees we resettle. We need to find creative ways to expand participation in the program at the local level and support for the program by community leaders.
PRM is increasingly reaching out to state and local elected officials, employers, health clinics, schools, and others, during our domestic trips. We are acutely aware of the importance of early employment for refugees, and therefore of the importance of your developing strong relationships with responsible employers in your communities.
Employers PRM staff and I have met in our travels around the US have been among the strongest advocates for the refugee admissions program. Tyson Foods, which provides English language training to refugees, has created community liaison positions to assist refugees navigate services and builds bridges with the host community. A firm in Ft. Wayne, Indiana was inspired by the challenges refugees have overcome and was impressed by their work ethic. Burmese now make up 10% of the workforce there. A Subway sandwich shop owner in Baltimore who keeps hiring more refugees says they are the best employees he’s ever had.
I know that you all could name dozens, if not hundreds, of companies that are also strong advocates for the program, and they are an essential part of the success of the US Refugee Admissions Program.
ECDC’s affiliated agencies benefit from the volunteer work of thousands of highly motivated and caring community members. We recognize the strong one-on-one relationships developed when an individual agrees to help welcome a refugee to his or her community, and I know this is happening every day at your offices across the country.
Whether it’s preparing an appropriate home-cooked meal for a family upon their arrival, helping to teach them English, or explaining how to navigate the local grocery store or bus system, these relationships are life-affirming and life-changing for both sides. These relationships also help build crucial support among Americans for the refugee resettlement program. I’ll be curious to hear from you what you all are doing to reach out to non-traditional stakeholders in your communities.
In conclusion, I want to thank you for all you do all year long as an essential part of the US Refugee Admissions Program. The work of communities and networks of volunteers helps to turn the promise of America --as a land that welcomes refugees -- into a reality. The success of our resettlement program depends on you. Thank you for the part you play in letting refugees turn their stories of tragedy into ones of triumph.