EXCOM PLENARY STATEMENT
Delivered by the U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Simon Henshaw
Geneva, October 2, 2017
I am pleased to be in Geneva once again for the Executive Committee of UNHCR. Today, I encourage all gathered to focus not only on the immediate challenges of the day, but also on the historic opportunities before us. Focusing our attention solely on the urgent crises of today at the expense of seizing new opportunities to work differently, will only make our efforts to address large displacement flows more difficult. That is why the United States strongly supports the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) and the Compact on Refugees in an effort to strengthen our collective humanitarian response over the long-term.
Nevertheless, we need to remain engaged with the crises themselves, the most recent being the Rohingya crisis. In response to the unprecedented outflows from Burma since late August, the United States government has provided nearly $32 million in additional humanitarian assistance to address the urgent needs of Rohingya forced to flee from the violence in Burma. This new funding brings U.S. humanitarian assistance for displaced populations in and from Burma to nearly $95 million in 2017. But the funding, of course, is not enough. We continue to call on the Burmese Government to grant access to international humanitarian organizations to assist displaced and vulnerable populations in Rakhine State.
In Syria, the humanitarian situation remains dire. The trauma from this terrible conflict is shocking and will persist until a political solution is reached. It is in the spirit of responsibility-sharing that the United States announced on September 21st an additional $697 million in new humanitarian assistance to those affected by the Syria crisis, which brings our 2017 total to more than $1.4 billion.
In the Lake Chad Basin, the savagery of Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa have created one of Africa’s worst humanitarian crises, affecting millions in Nigeria and neighboring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. We welcome the March 2 tripartite agreement on voluntary refugee return agreed to by Cameroon, Nigeria, and UNHCR that signals the commitment to safe, dignified, and voluntary returns when conditions permit.
And in South Sudan, we must continue to press for the civilian nature of refugee camps and prevent armed actors from interfering with humanitarian assistance. This humanitarian crisis is manmade and will only come to an end through peaceful negotiations.
Madame Chair, as difficult as these challenges are and however hard we will work to deliver aid to those in need, we also see opportunities that only come once in a generation. Historically, I am reminded of what international cooperation can look like to successfully tackle and resolve a specific refugee situation. We saw it when the international community pulled together to find lasting solutions for the Indochinese refugees following the Vietnam War. We saw it again in the early 1990s when UNHCR and governments in the region took a comprehensive approach to find durable solutions for uprooted Central Americans. These two initiatives – the Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indochinese Refugees and the International Conference on Central American Refugees – had in common a global approach to a regional refugee situation.
Today, we have a similar opportunity before us in the CRRF and the Global Compact on Refugees. I would like to thank the countries that are formally applying the CRRF and to commend the incredible progress already achieved in many of your countries to improve the lives of refugees and the communities that are hosting them. For our part, the United States is pleased to be a Cooperating State in the application of the Framework in our region, demonstrating our continued commitment to strengthen the regional processes that address forced displacement.
Madame Chair, while the CRRF lays out a series of important commitments made by governments, international organizations, and other relevant stakeholders, the forthcoming associated Programme of Action should be operational and practical. It should provide details on how best to implement the CRRF commitments, such as the use of multi-purpose cash to provide assistance while mitigating protection risks. It should inform refugee responses in countries also grappling with internal displacement or statelessness, and it should ensure that refugees are sufficiently informed about complementary pathways of admission. We also hope that the Programme of Action will demonstrate the need for the safety and dignity of refugees to remain at the center of responsibility-sharing efforts. The United States will continue to follow closely the CRRF and participate fully in consultations on the Refugee Compact.
Finally, through all these efforts, we are particularly grateful to the tireless work and leadership of UNHCR to protect, assist, and find solutions for the millions of people around the world who are forcibly displaced and stateless. Never before has the world needed UNHCR’s leadership more than it does today.