THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Okay, we will go ahead and get started. Good afternoon, and welcome to this Washington Foreign Press Center briefing. My name is Doris Robinson and I’m today’s moderator. We are pleased to welcome Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Julieta Noyes to our podium. Assistant Secretary Noyes will discuss the United States’ commitment to protecting and assisting refugees worldwide in recognition of World Refugee Day 2022. Assistant Secretary Noyes will make some opening remarks and we will then open for questions.
And with that, over to you, Assistant Secretary.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Thank you, Doris. Is this live? It sounds like it. Yes. Hi. My name is Julieta Valls Noyes and I am the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, and that’s the State Department’s lead on refugee and humanitarian response.
World Refugee Day is commemorated on June 20th each year, and we are highlighting the occasion all week long. This year’s World Refugee Day comes at a time of great upheaval and many demands – from the influx of Congolese refugees into Uganda, as well as new and ongoing crises in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and the Americas, and of course Europe.
For the first time in history, a few weeks ago, the number of people forced to flee conflict, violence, human rights abuses, and persecution reached more than 100 million people. That means more than one percent of the world’s population is now forcibly displaced – a milestone that we had hoped never to reach. Moreover, most of those displaced people are women and children.
This year we’re rallying around a theme: “Whoever. Wherever. Whenever. Everyone has the right to seek safety.” The United States is committed to assisting and protecting the world’s most vulnerable people around the world. The United States is the world’s single-largest provider of humanitarian assistance worldwide. In Fiscal Year 2021, we provided nearly $13 billion in humanitarian aid. This year we are continuing to directly support humanitarian assistance. We also prioritize fostering international cooperation to lead global refugee responses – on World Refugee Day and every day.
We’re committed to helping protect and assist the world’s most vulnerable, and we will continue to lead on the humanitarian response as well as on refugee resettlement. Refugee resettlement makes the United States stronger while providing new hope and a new home for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
U.S. humanitarian assistance reaches tens of millions of displaced and vulnerable people worldwide, and provides food, shelter, health care, access to clean water, education, livelihoods, child protection programs, women’s protection and empowerment activities, and so much more. We support international and non-governmental organizations to help those most in need.
Our humanitarian diplomacy and assistance is focused on helping displaced people without compromising their protection so that they’re assisted as quickly as possible. The goal is for them to return home safely and voluntarily and with dignity to rebuild their communities when circumstances permit.
Through our humanitarian leadership, we continue to emphasize the need for all donor governments to do their part to address humanitarian crises. We encourage countries around the globe to provide more funding for unmet humanitarian needs, and we also call on private sector entities to see what more they can do for the forcibly displaced.
Also, we ask that development partners, including multilateral development banks and bilateral development donors, consider how refugees, stateless persons, and internally displaced persons can be more equitably included in development programming. These populations suffer from deep levels of poverty and social and economic exclusion.
Our advocacy focuses in several key areas: first, increasing humanitarian access; second, advancing solutions and self-reliance for refugees and other displaced persons; third, urging states to uphold their international obligations; fourth, expanding the number of donors; and fifth, increasing global contributions to humanitarian appeals and responses.
Turning to resettlement, President Biden set an ambitious target to resettle up to 125,000 refugees from around the world this fiscal year. We are working to strengthen the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program to admit as many refugees as possible this fiscal year and in the years ahead, and we encourage other governments to make similar commitments.
This year, after undertaking the largest airlift in history, the State Department, together with our resettlement agency partners, affiliate, and community partners, worked around the clock to resettle more than 74,000 Afghan nationals with initial resettlement assistance through Operation Allies Welcome as they start their new lives here in the United States. We are grateful for and inspired by the dedication of our resettlement partners, volunteers, and community sponsors from across the country who have been involved in this effort. The United States will continue to welcome additional qualifying Afghans in the coming months.
The United States recognizes and applauds those in other countries, ranging from national governments to local communities, who are currently making critical contributions to support the world’s refugees, even when their own resources are sometimes scarce. We count on our local, national, and international partners to continue generously welcoming forcibly displaced populations in their communities.
In many countries and regions, our assistance to international organizations and NGOs helps to bolster national government and local community capacity to support refugees in ways that also benefit the host community, such as increased health care and education capacity. We support efforts to expand opportunities for refugees to thrive in their host communities, including
through increased access to legal services, to legal employment, education, and the ability to benefit from national services. We encourage host governments to provide durable solutions for refugees, including by enabling local integration, granting citizenship, and including refugees in their development plans. Greater self-reliance benefits the refugees and the donors and the hosts, especially as conflicts are becoming longer lasting and displacement continues to rise.
I myself am the daughter of Cuban refugees, and as such, I understand how difficult it is for people to leave their countries in search of a new life as they’re fleeing persecution, and I know firsthand the contribution that refugees make to their new countries. I mean, think about it: the daughter of a refugee is now the Assistant Secretary of State, trying to support migration, population, and refugees around the world.
Welcoming refugees, I firmly believe, represents the best of America, a nation of immigrants, and it helps to strengthen our country in everything that we do. So I really do understand firsthand why this matters, and that’s why I’m so proud to wear this ribbon for national – for Global* Refugee Day today. And as journalists from around the world, I look forward to hearing your questions about World Refugee Day. So Doris, I guess it’s over to you now. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Yes. Thank you, Assistant Secretary. So we will now open for question-and-answer. If you have a question in the room, please raise your hand; and if you are on Zoom, please hit the raised hand icon and I will call on you in turn.
Let’s start with Dmytro. Can you say your name and your outlet, please?
QUESTION: Oh, thank you, Doris, and thank you, Foreign Press Center, for organizing this. Because you know among those 100 million refugees are a couple of millions of Ukrainians right now. And I’ve got two questions, if I may. Firstly, can you describe the Biden administration policy towards the help to refugees from Ukraine? Because as I understand, even in those package which was provided by the Congress, which has $40 billion in support for the humanitarian assistance.
And secondly, could you provide the data about how many refugees from Ukraine were – came to America, how many people got protection status? So this Ukraine dimensions here – dimension here in America. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Thank you. Dmytro is your name? Dmytro, thank you for that question. And of course, it’s heartbreaking to see the cost of Russia’s continued, unprovoked attacks in Ukraine and the cost that it is imposing on your country and indeed the world.
My very first trip when I was confirmed as Assistant Secretary, about a week and a half after I got confirmed and sworn in, I went to Moldova and Poland to see the response firsthand. And it’s been really an incredible undertaking by the countries on Ukraine’s borders as well as, of course, everything that the Ukrainian Government and people and organizations are doing inside of Ukraine.
But the outflows are incredible. Over 7 million people from Ukraine had to depart the country. Some, I believe, have returned, but more than 5 million remain outside of Ukraine living with
host families in places like Poland or Romania, Moldova. And the outpouring of support from countries in the region, from the European Union, has been impressive.
The United States is, of course, firmly committed to supporting both the Government of Ukraine as it continues to defend itself against this unprovoked attack, but also to support people who are involved in this humanitarian crisis.
So in what has, in the months since – let’s see, since February – and I’m going to just check my figures, Dmytro – $914 million in humanitarian assistance alone since February of this year, since the attack. That money has gone to support people inside of Ukraine with health and shelter, but also to many of the countries that are helping to support the Ukrainian refugees.
In addition, the President announced the Uniting for Ukraine program, whereby sponsors in the United States could offer to host and support Ukrainians coming here for temporary refuge, and committed to taking up to **100,000 Ukrainians in the United States through this program. (See Footnote below). And to date, I believe we’ve had over 50,000 applicants for sponsorship, over 30,000 Ukrainians have been approved for travel, and over 10,000 have already arrived.
Now, that’s a temporary program because we know Ukrainians want to return home. I spoke with many of them as they were crossing over the border, and they told me that they were just leaving temporarily, that they wanted to return home, they wanted to return to their husbands and their brothers and their sons and their dogs – everything that they had left behind in Ukraine. They want to go home; that’s what most refugees want. That’s what most displaced people want is to return safely, voluntarily. And of course, that is the objective of U.S. policy as well as of Ukraine’s partners in Europe and around the world. But until they can do so, we want to help provide support for those who are no longer able to remain safely in their homes.
In addition to that, we are also looking longer term at those Ukrainians who had qualified, actually, for refugee status or were in the process of being approved for refugee status, and we are looking to expedite those cases of the Ukrainians who had to leave while their process was still being undertaken. And so we’re trying to get in touch – some of them have, of course, moved, and we’re trying to find them – but looking to expedite their cases.
So our support on the humanitarian side consists of providing funding both within Ukraine and then around Ukraine to the countries that are hosting Ukrainians, primarily through our international partners – the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, and others – to provide that lifesaving assistance, whether it’s food, whether it is shelter, temporary shelter. Multi-purpose cash assistance is a big part of the assistance, because we know that refugees are the people who know best what they need, and just giving them cash frequently is the best way to help them figure out how to meet their particular needs.
So a lot of work is underway, and I’m sure I would be remiss in not saying that we hope that it will not have to be for long, because it is our fervent hope that the war ends soon, that this unprovoked war ends soon, that people can return safely, voluntarily, and in a sustained manner to their country to help start to rebuild Ukraine.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll take our next question on Zoom, and we’ll go to Owen Churchill with South China Morning Post.
QUESTION: Hi. Can you hear me?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Yes.
QUESTION: Great, thanks so much. Appreciate the opportunity to ask this question. Hi, Assistant Secretary. My question regards Hong Kong and Xinjiang in China. The Biden administration gave TPS, I believe, to Hong Kongers last year, but there have been calls from advocacy circles for more – for example, for Priority 2 status to those seeking to leave Hong Kong and Xinjiang. And so I just was curious whether you had an update about the administration’s considerations on this, and is it something that you’re basically waiting for Congress to send something to the President’s desk or is it something you’re considering through executive action, for example along the lines of what you did for those leaving Afghanistan last year? Thank you. Thanks so much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Okay. Owen, thank you for that question. And I guess I’d start off by saying that, of course, the administration and all thinking people deplore what’s happening in Xinjiang. Indeed, we have declared that what’s happening there with Uyghurs to be a genocide. And there are a number of different sanctions in place and a strong policy response to that. Similarly, we want to uphold the freedoms and the rights of the people of Hong Kong, as well as Tibetans or others who may be suffering from repression. And so our objective is to support those efforts and those freedoms through a variety of policy mechanisms, to include refugee resettlement when possible.
And we can support those efforts for – or those applications for Hong Kongers or Uyghurs, Tibetans, others who have departed China, and continue to do so. We also have a number of people from those categories who have been admitted to the United States under humanitarian parole, and we’ll continue to consider other options available in this regard. But the effort is, of course, to hold the perpetrators of these atrocities accountable while trying to provide protection and support and humanitarian assistance for their victims. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll go back to the room. We’ll go to the front here with Rahim Rashidi, Kurdistan 24.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Thank you for this opportunity. Rahim Rashidi from Kurdistan TV. I would like to ask you: Can you update us about how you cooperate with Kurdistan Regional Government about refugee and humanitarian aid?
And another question should be about Sinjar situation. As you know, Sinjar is controlled by militia and Iranian proxy, and it was agreement between Kurdistan Regional Government and Iraqi Central Government to return refugee to Sinjar, as Yazidis. I believe you’re familiar with this case. What is U.S. position about that? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: So thank you for that question. And on World Refugee Day and every day, we look to uphold the rights of people who are being repressed while seeking durable solutions for those individuals, whether that is, again – I keep talking about – because it
is the best solution – safe, voluntary, dignified returns in conditions of safety when that is possible.
When that is not possible, other options include local integration wherever they happen to be, working with the host communities and the host governments. And in a very small percentage of cases, when neither of those solutions is possible or when a situation has dragged on for a very long time, to seek a third-country resettlement. And that is what the United States is trying to do now as we try to build back up our capacity and our numbers for refugee resettlement here in the United States.
So there are a number of complex refugee situations around the world, including those that you refer to, to internally displaced situations. But it is our objective in all of these cases to work towards durable solutions while at the same time providing the types of lifesaving humanitarian assistance and protection services that are needed to help them while we try to find a longer-term solution. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. And we have time for one more question. Serra, I know – from TRT – had a question.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this. As you know, Turkey hosts around 3.7 million Syrian, the largest refugee population in the world, and the worsening public sentiment has led the government to work on the plans to send some of them back, at least maybe around a million is planned. My first question is: Is Syria now safe for return? What is the U.S. assessment on that? And the second is: Any plan or ongoing work to assess Turkey on plans specifically to provide safe return, as you said, the third-country settlement, or hosting some in the U.S. maybe, or what else?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Thank you. Thank you for that. I didn’t catch your name.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Serra. Thank you for that question, Serra. So the United States, like all countries, is very grateful to Turkey for its generosity. It is the largest refugee-hosting country in the world, and it has undertaken a heavy burden with hosting, as you said, 3.8 million refugees over a course of some years now, and we are very grateful to Turkey for that.
That said, we do not currently believe that circumstances in Syria currently permit safe, voluntary, dignified, and sustained returns. Rather, we believe that what we need to do is to increase humanitarian access into Syria, and in that regard one of our top priorities for the coming few weeks is the reauthorization of the UN Security Council resolution that permits the provision of cross-border assistance into Syria in order to help the people who remain there and to prevent more people from leaving.
That said, we do, as I said at the beginning, understand the heavy burden that Turkey has undertaken in supporting and hosting these refugees, and we have provided considerable assistance. In the case of Syria, over the course of – since the war began, the United States has
provided over $15 billion in humanitarian assistance – just humanitarian assistance – and in this year, $895 million provided to support Syrians wherever they may be, many, many of them, as you have noticed, Serra, in Turkey.
So we like to work with our partners and we are working with Turkey and grateful to Turkey and grateful to be able to provide support to Turkey as it works to uphold and support the rights of these forcibly displaced people. Over time, we would dearly like to work with Turkey and other countries hosting Syrian refugees to improve the conditions in Syria such that they may return home or, if necessary, to look for greater solutions of local integration or, in a very small number of cases, perhaps refugee resettlement.
But I just want to really emphasize how grateful we are to Turkey for everything that it has done and how we look forward to continuing to partner with Turkey and continuing to provide assistance through our partners – the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, UNICEF, individual NGOs, and other partners – so that Turkey doesn’t have to carry that burden alone. Thank you so much.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Assistant Secretary, and we are just about out of time. Would you like to make any closing remarks?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: So wherever they are, whoever they are, whenever it is, we really believe that refugees have the right and we as responsible countries have the responsibility to help them seek safety. So thank you for coming to this briefing, and I look forward to future interactions, and I’ll send our Deputy Assistant Secretary of state and others over here to continue the dialogue, so thank you all so very much.
MODERATOR: And I’d like to thank Assistant Secretary Noyes for briefing us today, and for all of the journalists for participating today on Zoom and in person. Thank you. This concludes today’s briefing.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Thanks, guys. Thank you.
**Footnote: The Biden Administration’s commitment to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainian citizens to the United States utilizes all legal pathways, including humanitarian parole through Uniting for Ukraine, visas, and the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).