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U.S. Statement in UNHCR High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Protection Challenges
December 12, 2012

Remarks by Deputy Assistant Secretary Dave Robinson
State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration

A man speaking at a microphoneGeneva,
December 12-13, 2012

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Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  And thank you, Mr. High Commissioner for initiating this important dialogue.  I hope and trust it will continue to inform and to inspire us well beyond this week.

And thanks to all of the governments, international organizations, and NGOs in attendance for helping to enrich our discussion of the contributions faith-based organizations make to our shared humanitarian mission.

The job of protecting the world’s innocent victims of persecution and forced displacement is only growing larger and more complex.  Independently, none of us has the resources to meet existing need, much less projected future challenges.  For these reasons, we seek to mobilize a broader base of support, a wider coalition of commitment, to protect people who are unable to protect themselves.  And so our dialogue here on faith and protection is a critical step in accomplishing our shared goals.

The United States enthusiastically supports this effort.  We trace our national origins to pilgrims who fled other places in search of religious freedom, and we continue to this day to give asylum and citizenship to persons of all faiths — and to people of no particular faith or religious affiliation.  Faith based organizations play an important role in American civic life and culture.  They foster the values that underpin our respect for the policies and legal frameworks that protect refugees, asylum seekers, IDPs, stateless people and others across the globe.  We believe in working together across creeds, traditions, and faiths to uphold our common humanity.  And we depend upon faith-based organizations to help carry out relief and resettlement programs that are funded by the U.S. government.

At the same time, while as a government the United States embraces and supports faith-based organizations, we respect, and in fact we insist upon, the legitimate and necessary distinctions between government activity and religious activism.  Recipients of U.S. federal funds agree to provide aid to those in need, without prejudice and without regard to the religious affiliation of beneficiaries.  They must uphold recognized standards of performance and are prohibited from proselytizing.  Honoring these boundaries allows us to be more, not less, inclusive.  The diversity and flexibility created by respectful partnerships among faith-based, secular and government organizations produces enduring support from our own public and provides the greatest benefit to those most in need of help.

Our partnerships allow us to successfully resettle tens of thousands of refugees every year in the United States.  Six of the nine voluntary agencies involved in the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program are faith-based.[1]  These organizations, in turn, have networks that stretch across America and into thousands of cities and communities. This highly effective web of churches, synagogues, mosques and temples makes sure that refugee children are enrolled in schools; that parents are able to find jobs; and that families have homes, food and health care.

Each day, in countries across the globe, faith-based organizations bring life-saving and life-sustaining assistance to people in desperate circumstances.  From Catholic Relief Services to Islamic Relief,  from World Vision to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, help is delivered to families in need.  In Mizoram State, India, Lutheran World Service is bringing attention and assistance to Chin refugees from Burma.  In Congo, in Colombia, and in many other places around the world, Jesuit Refugee Service volunteers bring aid to the neediest victims of intolerance and abuse.  And in the United States, countless Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindi and other faith-based and secular organizations reach out to and support the widows, the orphans and the strangers among us.  These groups may be supported by adherents of their own faith, but they help people of every faith, and their generosity multiplies by many times the resources governments bring to the table.

The United States respects and relies upon the advocacy of religious leaders who preach tolerance and acceptance, just as we reject the perversion of faith into a message of intolerance and violence.  Our shared mission is to protect the innocent victims of persecution and forced displacement, the victims of intolerance and violence.  We cannot do that without the strong and reliable partnership of faith-based organizations.

In sum, the United States welcomes this dialogue and hopes that American partnerships between governments offices and faith-based organizations can serve as a model for others  and can illustrate the benefits that accrue from involving these highly motivated partners in efforts to aid and protect refugees and other vulnerable people around the world.

[1]Church World Service (CWS), Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and World Relief Corporation (WR).  In addition, these non-sectarian organizations are also partners: Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC), International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI)