Welcome, everyone. Let me begin by thanking all of you for the critically important work you do to support refugees – whether you do it as part of a government or a multilateral organization, an NGO or a business, or as a private citizen. And special thanks to our co-chair, Refugee Council USA for its outstanding work. I also want to extend a warm welcome to the refugees taking part in these discussions. No one knows better than you how we can improve our collective efforts, and all we have to gain by doing so.
The theme of this year’s World Refugee Day – which coincides with the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement, or ACTR – is “The Right to Seek Safety”. As all of you know, making that right a reality depends in large part on what we do to ensure that those who need refuge can find it. In particular, the nearly 1.5 billion displaced people who, according to the UN Refugee Agency, can neither return home nor remain safely in their countries of asylum. We meet at a time of unprecedented crisis.
Last month, we passed a staggering milestone, according to the United Nations, more than a hundred million people around the world have been forced from their homes. That’s the highest figure since the world started tracking such numbers. The Russian Government’s war of aggression in Ukraine has only exacerbated this crisis, forcing nearly 6 million people in Ukraine to flee to neighboring countries, where governments and citizens have demonstrated remarkable generosity.
In the United States, we have a long, proud history of welcoming the displaced into our country. Generations of refugees have become an integral part of our nation where they continue to make indelible contributions. We recently lost one of our greatest diplomats, Madeleine Albright, whose family found refuge in the United States when she was just 11 years old, after fleeing first from the Nazis, and then the Communists. In 2000, Secretary Albright was presiding over a naturalization ceremony for new U.S. citizens, where one of the participants was a refugee. After shaking the Secretary’s hand, the man exclaimed, “Can you believe it? I’m a refugee, and I just got my naturalization certificate from the Secretary of State!” Secretary Albright quickly responded, “Can you believe that a refugee is Secretary of State?” She never forgot how important it was for America to continue to welcome those who needed safe haven.
Having grown up with a stepfather who was also a refugee, I feel the same way. That’s why I’m so proud to serve under a President who is committed not only to restoring the United States Refugee Admissions program, but expanding and modernizing it. Here’s what we’re doing to deliver on that commitment. We’ve raised the annual refugee admissions cap to 125,000 people, up from the historic low of 15,000 a few years ago. We’re hiring more staff to process and admit refugees. Since January 2021, we’ve increased the number of personnel working at the Resettlement Support Centers by more than 50% and expanded the number of local resettlement partners we work with – from under 200, to more than 280 today. We’re using new video conferencing capabilities to conduct interviews remotely with applicants in hard-to-reach locations; and we’re taking advantage of new technologies to shorten the time it takes to carry out security vetting, without cutting corners on the integrity of those reviews. We’re piloting a new public-private partnership that allows communities to come together to sponsor individual refugees.
Many of these are innovations that our team came up with while resettling more than 75,000 Afghans in a matter of months, an extraordinary undertaking whose urgency and scale required an all-of-government effort. We’re applying many of these lessons as we strive to meet the President’s pledge to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing President Putin’s brutal war – nearly 30,000 of whom have arrived in the United States since the end of February. These recent experiences have demonstrated the deep desire across America – and all parts of our society – to be part of helping refugees make a new home in our country.
One recent survey found that one in five American adults had taken part in an act of welcoming refugees over the last year, and an additional 14% would like to help, but don’t yet know how to do so. The generosity we’ve seen on the part of communities across the world, – from Colombia to Uganda, from Poland to Jordan, – tells us that the United States is not an outlier. So there’s reason for optimism. Yet you all have come to this gathering because you know that there’s a lot more we can and must do to meet the current global crisis, including in the United States, where we have a ways to go to meet the ambitious new target set by President Biden. To that end, we urge every government to find ways to scale up its resettlement efforts – as well as to make them more efficient and more effective at integrating people into communities. We urge more governments to engage the private sector, NGOs, faith groups, universities, youth and other parts of society in resettling refugees.
The more we can make our communities partners in these efforts, the more fully we can integrate refugees into the fabric of all our nations. After all, we know that investing in refugees integration is ultimately an investment in our own communities.
That’s the story of Madeline Albright, and it’s the story of a member of the U.S. delegation to this year’s meeting, Dauda Sesay. Dauda fled his community in Sierra Leone after armed rebels attacked his home – killing his father and seven-year-old sister. In 2009, he resettled in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he lives with his wife and their five children. Dauda not only founded and leads an organization that helps resettle refugees, but he also serves on the Mayor’s International Commission; co-chairs Baton Rouge’ commission on Engaging People in the arts; and somehow also makes time to attend school board meetings and play soccer. He is as much – as anyone – a full citizen of his community and country, to the benefit of all. Dauda ‘s service, and that of countless resettled individuals like him, reminds us of the stakes of your discussions and all that we have to gain from the efforts you’re undertaking, today and every day.
For that work, we thank you, and wish you a most productive discussion.