Geneva, September 28, 2015
Thank you all for coming this evening, and thank you for giving Kelly such a warm welcome. She certainly deserves it, because like many of you, Kelly’s entire career has been dedicated to public service.
Kelly joined the State Department 25 years ago, fresh out of school, and very early on she was detailed to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Bangladesh. Since then, she has worked tirelessly, year after year, for those who’ve had to leave their homes, forced to flee due to violence and oppression. And sadly, the number of refugees around the world has been growing unabated.
As Secretary Kerry recently said, “It’s almost unfathomable that nearly 60 million men, women and children are now displaced inside and outside of their countries.” Yes, there are currently 60 million displaced persons, and over half of them are children.
This is the largest number UNHCR has ever counted and it’s 8 million more than the previous record set just one year ago.
From Syria and Yemen to South Sudan and Iraq…how do we deal with mass displacements of this magnitude? Will the needs created by these complex crises and these protracted refugee situations continue to outpace the international community’s collective ability to respond?
In other words, how do we make sure UNHCR has the resources it needs to tackle these emergencies?
The United States is extremely concerned with humanitarian organizations’ dire financial outlook for 2015.
We are on pace to contribute more to UNHCR than we did last year — over $1.2 billion — but we implore other donors to do their part. We must avoid a situation where the refugee agency is forced to scale back life-saving assistance due to financial constraints.
I mentioned Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, and Iraq — all Level-3 emergencies. But we all know there are unfortunately many other crises — in Nigeria, Central African Republic, Mali, Burundi, and of course in the Mediterranean. It’s shocking that more than 300,000 refugees and migrants have used the dangerous sea route across the Mediterranean so far this year.
All of these situations require an immediate response. Emergency help is crucial. It’s often the first step towards long-term protection and rehabilitation for many refugees.
And we know that far too often the road is long.
Consider Afghanistan, Somalia, Colombia, or Bhutan. Millions of people around the world remain on the move or stranded on the edge of society for years, as long-term internally displaced persons or refugees. As hopeless as some of these situations have become, the international community cannot turn its back on these people in need. Which is why we were especially thrilled when Kelly was appointed to serve as Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees!
Everything Kelly has done in her career has prepared her for this challenge. Not only does Kelly have a long history with UNHCR, but it’s been from the donor’s perspective, which gives her a very valuable frame of reference to draw upon. Perhaps even more important is her ability to assess each situation separately and determine how it fits within the organization’s overarching strategy. She’s used to making tough decisions and to setting clear priorities.
As Deputy Assistant Secretary, she oversaw a $3 billion annual budget destined to protect and assist refugees, conflict victims, and vulnerable migrants worldwide. No matter what, you can be sure that she will always have the beneficiary in mind. And that, I believe, is our new Deputy High Commissioner’s greatest strength.
But it’s not her only strength! Kelly knows International Geneva inside and out. In fact, she worked here at our Mission as part of our humanitarian team for several years in the ‘90s. She loves the mountains and hiking. And I’m told she makes a mean fondue!
Kelly, you’re coming into this job at an extremely challenging time for UNHCR. But as High Commissioner Guterres noted, and I quote, “your proven leadership and rich combination of skills will be a key asset for the agency.”
And Antonio knows what he’s talking about! He was one of the first to commit to becoming a Geneva Gender Champion as part of an initiative Michel Møller and I recently launched to build a leadership network here in Geneva to advance gender equality. [As an aside, the deadline for joining us as Geneva Gender Champions is coming up this week so I hope all of you, as leaders in this community, will sign on to this important initiative on behalf of your organizations.]
Kelly, I know I can count on you to continue to place the critical needs of women and girls at the forefront of your work. Your proven dedication to the safety and well-being of refugees goes hand in hand with the steadfast dedication UNHCR shows everyday in carrying out its important mission of providing protection and assistance to the millions of vulnerable people around the world.
I think I speak on behalf of everyone here when I say that you can count on all of us to help UNHCR fulfill its important mission.
Please join me in welcoming the new Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, Ms. Kelly Clements.