Statement by Eric Schwartz
Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration
September 29, 2009
Last week at the UN General Assembly, President Obama reaffirmed the U.S. Government’s commitment to engage with partners in the international community to address critical common challenges. There may be no better symbol of that partnership than the United States’ involvement with and support for UN agencies providing life-saving and life-sustaining assistance to the most vulnerable of the world’s citizens.
Today I am pleased to announce that, as our fiscal year comes to a close, the United States Government will have contributed over $3 billion in 2009 to UN and other international organizations to provide humanitarian assistance for refugees, victims of conflict and natural disasters, stateless people, and vulnerable migrants. This year’s contribution represents a record-setting level of multilateral humanitarian assistance from the United States – as well as for any other single government in the world. And this figure is in addition to sizable bilateral assistance and support through non-governmental organization partners worldwide.
The U.S. provides humanitarian assistance on every continent through our international organization partners, such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as they respond to new humanitarian crises, support ongoing refugee situations, and pursue durable solutions for displaced people. In Africa, our support this past year has helped UNHCR respond to the growing Somalia refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa, provide life-saving aid to refugees from Darfur who are seeking protection in Chad, and repatriate refugees in safety and dignity to Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and southern Sudan.
In the Middle East, the U.S. is the largest donor to assistance programs for displaced Iraqis, demonstrably improving conditions for Iraqis’ health, education, livelihoods, and protection. The U.S. is the largest bilateral donor to UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and continues to advocate for sufficient and timely contributions to UNRWA’s General Fund, which provides core services for Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, West Bank and Gaza.
In South East Asia, our support has assisted more than two million Pakistanis displaced during Pakistan’s offensive against Taliban insurgents. In the past 12 months U.S. funding supported more than 2.5 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran who are unable to return to their homes, as well as successfully helping more than 274,000 return home to Afghanistan. We are working to reach a humanitarian solution for the Lao Hmong refugees and asylum seekers in Thailand, and are committed to providing assistance for Burmese refugees. In Sri Lanka we are working to support the safe and voluntary return of nearly 280,000 internally displaced persons to their homes.
U.S. assistance in Europe supports capacity building efforts by international organizations working with governments in conflict-affected regions, with the goal of improving response to and protection of vulnerable populations. U.S. humanitarian assistance focuses on the search for durable solutions – particularly shelter and livelihoods – on behalf of long-term refugee and displaced caseloads in Georgia and Serbia is a major focus.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, the U.S. funds the work of international organizations to build emergency response capacity and provide International Human Rights law training to police and military forces throughout the region. The U.S. also funds programs to address the emergency and longer term needs of internally displaced people in Colombia and refugees in the Colombia/Andes region.
The Obama Administration’s commitment to humanitarian assistance reflects the deeply held belief of the American people that we have a profound moral obligation to assist those most in need. There continues to be a growing need for humanitarian assistance which strengthens our determination to do more.
We believe that American humanitarian generosity builds sustainable partnerships with the people who are the beneficiaries of our assistance, whether from countries that are our allies, or from countries under regimes at odds with our priorities and interests. And we are convinced that humanitarian assistance serves the key goal of promoting reconciliation, security and well-being in circumstances where despair and misery not only threaten regional stability, but also broader international security interests.