May 1: Church World Service, Episcopal Migration Ministries, and Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Service conference, Minneapolis, MN
May 3: U. S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants conference, Arlington, VA
May 8: Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Philadelphia, PA
Thank you for that kind introduction, and for having me here today. I have long admired the work of resettlement agencies and their networks of affiliated agencies around the United States. Thank you for your decades of service to refugees in this country and around the world.
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.
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 and augment the international response.
The international community is currently facing an unprecedented number of refugee crises. In the last year, we’ve witnessed major outflows of refugees from Syria, Mali, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
These crises have underscored the importance of keeping borders open to those fleeing persecution. 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 -- 70,000 dead, 1.3 million refugees, millions more displaced or hurt inside Syria -- is challenging everyone involved.
The U.S. Government is providing nearly $410 million to assist Syrian refugees in the region, as well as those who remain in Syria. We have also pressed other countries to step forward with their own financial contributions to the UN and other international humanitarian organizations. I attended the UN-Kuwait pledging conference at the end of January and we were all very pleased when Kuwait recently fulfilled its pledge to contribute $300 million to the Syria response, joining the United States as a leading donor to the crisis. Importantly, the Kuwaitis chose to donate through UN agencies. This is a step we applaud.
At the same time that Syria captivates our attention and coffers, I do not want to lose sight of other populations of concern, such as refugees from Mali and Sudan. In Mali, conflict in the north has prompted people to flee. The US government has provided over $120 million through international and non-governmental organizations for Malian refugees and IDPs, and more will be announced this year.
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 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 to1,600 individuals from Dadaab to Kakuma to continue the process for U.S. resettlement. These refugees, many of whom have been living in Dadaab for more than 20 years, will start arriving in the United States this month.
In Syria, thousands of Iraqi refugees who have been referred for U.S. resettlement are similarly inaccessible and we are taking several steps to get them to safety.
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.
We were pleased (and a bit surprised) when the Government of Chad reached out to UNHCR late last year to say it had changed its mind on resettlement of Darfuri refugees from Eastern Chad and would now allow UNHCR to refer individual cases (but not P-2 group processing).
PRM traveled to Chad in February to survey the landscape and discuss the resumption of resettlement with partners. We are cautiously optimistic but proceeding slowly in terms of dedicating resources (human and financial) to the effort, given the fits and starts we’ve faced on this program over the years.
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.
Your 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 a 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.