World Refugee Day is more than a moment marked on a calendar. It is a time to honor the strength and resilience of refugees around the world and renew our determination to support them as they rebuild their lives and communities. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees now counts the number of refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced persons at 51 million. That number is staggering by any measure. It represents children, women, and men from Syria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and now Iraq, who face death, destruction, and dislocation. For them, daily survival is a gamble.
The dreams refugees harbor have special meaning for Americans. Even before our land was a nation, America was a haven for those seeking freedom from persecution, hunger, oppression, and war. Today, refugees continue to look to America for relief and opportunity. These refugees, many of whom arrive having lost everything, become some of the most resilient, entrepreneurial, and devoted citizens we have.
When I visited the UN’s Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan last year, I saw firsthand the value and importance of our work. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians – many women and children – live there in suspended animation, waiting for the opportunity to rebuild their lives. I met with some of the camp’s many residents. Their needs were simple: food, shelter, stability. But most of all, they want to live their lives with the dignity and respect that all people deserve.
That’s why I’m proud that the United States is the largest donor to humanitarian relief worldwide. Our humanitarian assistance has saved lives and eased suffering for 4.7 million people inside Syria and more than 2.8 million refugees in neighboring countries. We have also recently announced nearly $300 million in additional humanitarian assistance to help the people affected by the conflict in South Sudan. Beyond just dollars and programs, our efforts are assisting millions who have fled conflict and persecution in the Central African Republic, Burma, Afghanistan, and many other places around the world.
I’m especially proud that the United States welcomes the most refugees to our shores every year. Nearly 70,000 refugees from 65 nations found a new home in in the United States last year. We expect to admit just as many in 2014.
The losses refugees suffer, the journeys they make, and the commitment they put into rebuilding their lives are remarkable. Today of all days, we salute their courage and resilience. We pay tribute to the generosity of countries that give them refuge. And we applaud the compassion of communities and organizations the world over that lend a helping hand.