David M. Robinson serves as Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration.
With an estimated 40 million displaced people worldwide, up to 12 million who do not have citizenship to any country, and some 10.5 million refugees around the globe, the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) assists persecuted and uprooted people through our support to international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and by advocating for their protection through humanitarian diplomacy. From the Arab Awakening to the crisis in the Horn of Africa, global political upheaval and conflict have presented many humanitarian challenges, and as 2012 begins, I’d like to take a moment to share a few examples of the work we did last year.
Refugee Admissions: The United States welcomed more than 56,000 refugees to re-start their lives thanks to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. English as a Second Language pilot programs provided basic language training to hundreds of U.S.-bound refugees in Kenya, Thailand, and Nepal. Our overseas partners reported a significant increase in basic skills and confidence. We anticipate increased enthusiasm for studying English after arrival in the United States — a key skill for newly arrived refugees when seeking employment to become self-sufficient in their new communities.
Africa: In Africa, we supported international organization and NGO efforts to assist some 170,000 Ivoirian refugees in Liberia as well as hundreds of thousands of Ivoirians who were internally displaced as a result of conflict in that region. This spring, turmoil in Libya forced over one million persons to cross into Tunisia and Egypt. In response, PRM supported the emergency evacuation and repatriation of stranded third-country migrants, assistance and protection efforts for refugees and internally displaced persons, and emergency medical care and protection programs for conflict victims and detainees. Our partnership in this effort with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was a model of multilateral humanitarian action at its best. In the Horn of Africa, conflict and famine in southern Somalia forced another 300,000 Somalis to flee in 2011, bringing the overall Somali refugee population in the region to nearly one million. PRM funding to international organization partners and NGOs provided shelter, food, and other assistance to Somalis in need, and we sponsored a series of colloquia in the region to bring affected governments — especially those who have played an important role in hosting large numbers of Somali refugees — and service providers together to begin developing a unified strategic plan to address the crisis.
Middle East: Supporting Iraqi refugees in the Middle East continued to be one of our top priorities. Inside Iraq, PRM assistance programs help support voluntary returns and reintegration, for example, though home reconstruction, rehabilitation of water and sanitation systems, employment services and protection assistance. In neighboring countries, our funding supports a range of services for Iraqi refugees, including education, health care, and food assistance. In Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza, PRM’s continued contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) supported vital programs in education, health, and social services to five million Palestinian refugees. UNRWA’s commitment to peace and tolerance is a force for stability in the region and is an indispensible counterweight to extremism.
South and Central Asia: PRM supported UNHCR as it built its two hundred thousandth shelter for Afghan refugees returning to Afghanistan. We continued to advocate and provide assistance for the 2.7 million Afghan refugees outside Afghanistan as well as for Pakistanis displaced by conflict and flood. In Nepal, PRM supported UNHCR protection and assistance to Tibetan refugees transiting to India. We continued to support UNHCR assistance to 55,000 Bhutanese refugees, many of whom are in the process of resettlement to the United States. With PRM funding, UNHCR and the Turkmenistan government conducted a country-wide registration campaign, identifying approximately 8,000 stateless persons. More than 3,000 verified stateless people were granted Turkmen citizenship, with more expected in the coming months. Turkmenistan also acceded to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.
Western Hemisphere: PRM humanitarian diplomacy saw progress when the Panamanian government passed a law granting approximately 900 indigenous and Afro-Colombian refugees the ability to request residency and work permits. We promoted solutions to statelessness in the Dominican Republic. In Haiti, PRM focused on addressing the protection needs of earthquake-displaced Haitians and building government capacity to address gender-based violence and trafficking in persons, with an emphasis on assistance for vulnerable women and children.
Europe: Our diplomatic efforts and assistance programs in the Balkans worked towards a lasting solution for those displaced since the mid 1990s war. In November, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia signed a joint declaration aimed at providing durable housing solutions to the 74,000 most vulnerable refugees and internally displaced persons remaining in the four countries — a landmark achievement.
Migration: PRM migration programs supported direct assistance to vulnerable migrants, government capacity building, and regional coordination and dialogues on migration issues. The United States played a leadership role in several regional and international governmental forums, chairing the Intergovernmental Consultations on Migration, Asylum and Refugees, the largest global forum for dialogue on migration and development issues.
Population: Last year, the global population reached 7 billion, providing multiple opportunities to highlight U.S. leadership in investing in women and girls as essential to solving the world’s most challenging problems. Women and girls are the world’s engines of change. When their rights are protected and promoted, when they are healthy and educated, and when they can participate fully in society, they trigger progress in families, communities, and nations. Promoting sexual and reproductive health, reproductive rights, and access to safe and effective voluntary methods of family planning are at the top of President Obama’s global health agenda. PRM supported these goals by representing the U.S. government at meetings of the UN Population Funds’ (UNFPA) Executive Board and at the annual session of the UN Commission on Population and Development.
Statelessness: Under the Secretary’s leadership, the Department launched an initiative to promote women’s equal right to nationality. At UNHCR’s ministerial event in December commemorating the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1954 and 1961 Conventions on Statelessness, Secretary Clinton spoke about discrimination against women as a major cause of statelessness around the world. PRM also targeted statelessness of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic, addressing the issue in several public forums and supporting UNHCR and others as they seek solutions to this enduring problem.
What’s in store for 2012? At the UNHCR ministerial, the United States renewed its commitment to displaced people by pledging to take concrete steps to address statelessness, women’s nationality issues, protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) refugees and asylum seekers, and to improve detention and asylum practices. Our continued support to our international organization and NGO partners and our diplomacy in 2012 will help improve the lives of millions of persecuted people who have suffered through upheaval and tragedy.
This blog can be found at : http://blogs.state.gov/index.php/site/entry/refugees_prm_year_2011