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Statement by Assistant Secretary Anne Richard at UNHCR ExCom High Level Segment
September 29, 2014

Assistant Secretary Anne Richard speaking at the UNHCR ExCom meeting in Geneva

United States of America
As Prepared for Delivery by
Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration
Anne C. Richard

September 29, 2014

(Note: The as delivered version was slighted shortened due to time constraints)

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

As a government that supports humanitarian causes, we appreciate this dialogue with African governments on how we can work together, toward a more just, prosperous, and peaceful future.

This past August, President Obama hosted a summit with African leaders. There, he promised that the United States would “be a good partner, an equal partner, and a partner for the long term.” Our cooperation in responding to emergencies and aiding those uprooted by conflict is one important dimension of this partnership.

President Obama also spoke of Africa’s greatest resource – its people and their talent. This includes refugees. We must help them not only to survive conflicts, but to do so in dignity, and with respect for the contributions they can make to their families, communities and societies at large if given the chance.

I want to discuss three ways we can meet these challenges.

One is by upholding the principle of first asylum. Allowing those in danger to cross borders saves lives. Refugees have this right under the laws of most African states.

The second is by providing protection – protection from physical harm, harassment and exploitation.

The third is by giving refugees the chance to build new lives.

Most African refugees flee to and live in neighboring African countries. For every instance of violent conflict in Africa, there are also incredibly inspiring examples of African compassion, hospitality and generosity.

The principle of first asylum is enshrined in the groundbreaking OAU Refugee Convention that celebrated its 45th anniversary this year.

African countries have a laudable record of adhering to this principle. On my trip to Chad this past April, I visited newly arrived Central African refugees. Though it remains one of the world’s poorest countries, Chad has taken in more than a half million refugees and vulnerable migrants fleeing the violence in both Sudan and the Central African Republic, and is working with UNHCR to protect and assist them.

With some 630,000 refugees, Ethiopia has recently surpassed Kenya in hosting the largest number of refugees on the continent. More arrive every day from Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan and Somalia. And Ethiopia’s hospitality is unwavering.

In many parts of the world, though, first asylum has come under strain. In countries that border Syria, Somalia, and Nigeria, and even in the United States, people worry that terrorists and criminals will move across borders hidden in the flow of legitimate refugees.

We understand the fear that drives some to close borders or deport refugees. But the overwhelming majority of refugees are seeking to escape violence, not perpetuate it.

Modern registration, using secure biometrics, can be a great tool for protecting legitimate refugees. We want to help countries discern real threats so that they do not make the mistake of branding whole groups of people as potential terrorists. Doing so is an ineffective security strategy, a waste of resources, and can be counter-productive by creating grievances.

Refugees who flee in search of safety do not always find it. In chaotic settings, far from home, women, children, and members of the LGBT community can be especially vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and violence. Last week during the United Nations General Assembly, participants in the high-level “Call to Action” event hosted by the U.S government reported on the actions they have taken to protect women and girls in emergencies.

The United States is expanding the “Safe from the Start” initiative we launched last year with UNHCR and others to train aid workers and insist that best practices are followed not only to treat and support survivors of gender based violence, but to create safeguards from the very onset of an emergency to prevent this violence from taking place.

We must also shield refugees from threats such as forced military recruitment.

And we must find real and lasting solutions to the conflicts that cause so much suffering – by reconciling not only political rivals, but communities that have been torn apart.

The United States is grateful for all that your peacekeeping forces, diplomats, and leaders have done to try to restore order and settle conflicts. And until peace prevails, we will strive to continue to help meet the enormous need for humanitarian assistance.

Earlier this month we committed an additional $28 million for the regional emergency response for the Central African Republic crisis. Today, I am happy to announce that the U.S. government is committing nearly $83 million in additional funding to aid refugees and conflict victims in South Sudan, and South Sudanese refugees in neighboring countries. This brings the U.S. government’s total humanitarian assistance to Africa this fiscal year to nearly 2.8 billion dollars.

While grateful to our Congress that we are in a position to make these contributions, we know it would be so much better to eliminate the need for it.

Our goal is to help the vast majority of those displaced by conflict return safely to their homes.
But when this is not possible, refugees need to be able to start over elsewhere.
I want to commend countries such as Tanzania, Zambia, for allowing refugees from Burundi and Angola to stay and integrate into their new communities. Your generosity and hospitality is a model for refugee-hosting nations worldwide.

The United States supports local integration programs through UNHCR and we encourage more African states to consider local integration for refugees who cannot go home.

Local integration works, in part, because it helps empower refugees to be what they can and want to be: industrious, self-reliant, and contributing members of their communities. As recent research by Oxford’s Refugee Studies Center reveals: common perceptions about refugees – that they are isolated, burdensome, homogenous, technologically illiterate, and dependent on handouts – are simply wrong. Researchers interviewed 1,600 refugees, including Congolese, Rwandan, Somali, Burundian, South Sudanese, Ethiopian, and Eritrean refugees living in Uganda.

In Uganda, where laws permit refugees to work and move freely, they are seizing opportunities to help themselves.

Refugees in rural areas are equally self-reliant, given the right tools and resources. In Niger, refugee “zones” have been set up where Malian refugees can move freely, maintain their traditional nomadic lifestyle, and even pasture their livestock. In southern Chad, a project that the U.S. government and UNHCR support is providing seeds, tools, and training for refugee and local farmers, allowing them to feed their families and sell their crops on the local market.

Education can be the most critical investment of all and unleashes boundless potential. We applaud the many African host-nations that have welcomed young refugees and offered them education and other social services. Ethiopia is even helping young Eritrean refugees attend universities by providing scholarships. And in Kenya, Kenyatta University has opened a campus in the Dadaab refugee complex offering both regular classes and e-learning.

Before the tragic outbreak of renewed conflict last year, South Sudanese refugees who had been educated during their long years of asylum in Kenya had returned to South Sudan and were serving as doctors, teachers, and government administrators. Last year, we welcomed a resettled South Sudanese refugee into the State Department as one of our newest diplomats.

Resettling more African refugees who need new, permanent homes is a priority for the Obama Administration.

Together with UNHCR, the United States is co-leading a core group of governments to galvanize support for resettling tens of thousands of Congolese refugees in coming years, while pressing for additional benefits for those who will not be resettled. We look forward to working with many of you as fellow resettlement countries on this effort, along with host countries in the region.

In recent years, the Obama Administration has increased the number of African refugees welcomed to the United States. Over the past five years, we have resettled more than 63,000 African refugees from 25 countries.

We are proposing to admit up to 17,000 African refugees next year. That is nearly a quarter of the total number that we can bring in from around the world.

Refugees from Africa have made our communities more vibrant and our nation stronger.

Every time I travel on the African continent, I am struck by the energy and vitality of Africa’s youth.

The potential and promise they embody should be encouraged and not lost to needless wars and violence. Let us work together to help those caught up in conflicts find safety, dignity, and the opportunity to thrive and live in peace.

Thank you.