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World Relief National Conference

World Relief National Conference

Simon Henshaw
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
Denver, CO
April 8, 2014

Good morning and thank you for that kind introduction. It is an honor to be here, and speak with such a unique and inspiring group of individuals. The best part of my job is the chance to meet staff and volunteers like yourselves who dedicate your lives to helping refugees get a fresh start. That outlook has certainly contributed to the success of World Relief; staff and advocates like you have helped World Relief get to its 70th Anniversary, and its 35th Anniversary in refugee resettlement.

Many of you, I know, view this work as a calling, and not just a career. It is this kind of commitment that has allowed you to reach such a milestone.

Daily, you interact with refugees who were amongst the most vulnerable people in the world, now making their way on a new journey here in the United States. You have witnessed the amazing stories of refugees, and the impact that resettlement has had on their lives. I know from my own experiences in meeting with refugees, as well as with the staff who work with them, that you cannot help but see how America is enriched by the diversity they bring. The culture of our entire country is enriched. And our local communities are enriched by the introduction of new cultures and peoples.

I understand that some of you may have once been refugees yourselves, facing the same obstacles and challenges as the clients with which you work. You certainly have a foot in both worlds. All of you have seen the amazing transition of your clients from refugee to teacher, social worker, student, or business-owner. The experiences are life-changing, for both service provider and client.

This story, of finding safe harbor in the United States, a place where families can prosper, is the story shared by America’s founders. Diversity, second chances, and opportunity are integral parts of the American character, and we are fortunate that the Refugee Resettlement Program enjoys broad bi-partisan Congressional support.

Refugees are resettled in 49 out of 50 states, in over 180 communities. Last year was a remarkable one for refugee resettlement; in 2013, the President set the ceiling for arrivals at 70,000; when the year was over, our final total for arrivals was 69,927 refugees. I don’t have to tell you, but that represents nearly 70,000 fresh starts, 70,000 lives renewed, coming from 65 countries, all on the path to a new beginning in the United States.

It is a credit to you here at World Relief, along with other resettlement agencies, who are working in communities and cities to ensure that refugees become part of the fabric of America. Congress may have passed the Refugee Act of 1980, but it is your efforts, and those of the local communities, that have helped implement the resettlement program – by opening hearts and homes to refugees from around the world.

I challenge you to keep your foot on the gas: continue being advocates and a voice for others, to work together. Stay engaged in civic life, keep teaching your communities about refugees, serve as leaders amongst your peers, and keep mentoring refugee advocates. Your voices together communicate volumes. And as we ask you to continue being advocates, and continue your commitment to refugee resettlement, know that we at PRM, and within the U.S. government, are committed to a strong and robust admissions program for years to come.

About the PRM Bureau
So I am not just here to serve as a cheerleader for the wonderful work you have accomplished this year, but also to help round out what you know about the work we at PRM do. Clearly, you are familiar with one major facet of our work, refugee resettlement- but our mandate extends further: it provides and coordinates life-saving assistance, engages in humanitarian diplomacy, and protects women and children in emergencies.

Simply put, there are two words that guide our Bureau’s work: protect and aid.

The first priority for PRM is the rapid and coordinated humanitarian response to emergencies.

My bureau is essentially the humanitarian arm of the State Department, working on the humanitarian response to emergencies around the world, through both non-governmental organizations and through long-standing, professional multilateral humanitarian institutions, like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The United States is the world’s single largest donor to humanitarian causes. In fiscal year 2013, PRM provided almost $2.4 billion dollars to protect, shelter, and care for people forced to flee for their lives. In total, the United States gave nearly $5 billion in humanitarian assistance last year.

We provide funding and humanitarian assistance to support organizations who work with populations in the acute and protracted phases of an emergency, which also can help lay the groundwork for civic and economic engagement when the conflict is over.

One major example of the comprehensive and coordinated humanitarian assistance PRM provides is exemplified by our response to the Syria crisis. This crisis is the most serious humanitarian emergency in a generation, and, as Secretary of State Kerry noted at the January Kuwait Donors conference, “should offend every reasonable conscience.” We have seen the crisis grow to unspeakable levels, leaving ordinary civilians caught in the middle of the conflict.

The United States leads the world in contributions for the Syria crisis, providing more than $1.7 billion dollars in humanitarian assistance to date; of that, nearly $862 million in humanitarian assistance funding has gone to Syria’s neighbors, who are shouldering much of the burden.

Congress and the American people deserve great credit for their generosity. This funding and attention demonstrates our commitment and leadership, but as always, more can and should be done. My bureau is always trying to find ways to reach other donors as well as average citizens. Americans who care about the vulnerable urgently need to become more engaged to assist.

Regardless of our funding levels, or the generosity of the neighboring countries hosting refugees, we must keep in mind that all the humanitarian aid in the world doesn’t matter without access to the people who need it. That is why we continue to press for greater access within Syria, especially to besieged and hard to reach populations.

While Syria dominates the headlines, it is sadly not the only crisis PRM is working on. We are urgently following crises and providing humanitarian assistance in places like South Sudan, the Central African Republic; a few months ago I traveled to Kenya and Uganda, witnessing first-hand the urgency of the refugee situations there. I have also traveled to the Dominican Republic and Haiti to look at issues of statelessness. All of these situations are dire in their own ways, and my bureau is there, again, to help protect and aid.

A large part of ‘protect and aid’ is engaging in humanitarian diplomacy. We exercise the diplomatic influence of the world’s most powerful nation to engage on behalf of the poor, the hungry, and the helpless. We advocate with neighboring countries to maintain open borders to those who are fleeing conflict; we ask nations – behind closed doors and in public – to join us and contribute their resources to humanitarian appeals. This humanitarian diplomacy is every bit as crucial to our mission as the dollars we donate, and it’s a unique part of my Bureau’s mission.

As the principal humanitarian advisor within the State Department, PRM strives to ensure that protection of the most vulnerable is at the center of policymaking, and that humanitarian principles are respected as part of U.S. foreign policy. Not only is our mission firmly integrated with other parts of the State Department, we also work hand in hand with USAID, and other agencies like the Department of Homeland Security.

Some of this work is done in Washington, but much is done overseas. We have refugee officers at U.S. embassies abroad, from Addis Ababa to Baghdad, Bangkok to Bogota, and officers around the world that engage directly with other governments to protect and assist refugees and displaced and stateless people on the ground. Their outreach is often done quietly on sensitive issues, but their impact can mean the difference in ensuring refugees are not forcibly returned, undocumented migrants are treated in accordance with broad humanitarian principles, and unaccompanied children are reunited with their parents.

A third area of focus for PRM is the protection of women and children caught in crisis. These populations have unique vulnerabilities - but also unique capacities - when emergencies occur, and are of critical importance to both Assistant Secretary Richard, but also to Secretary Kerry and President Obama.

Conflict causes chaos and instability, greatly increasing the vulnerability to sexual violence, human trafficking, forced and early marriage, and domestic violence, among others. Too often, gender-based violence is recognized as a problem in conflict too late, after major emergency humanitarian response efforts are underway. So we are focusing new efforts to close this gap.

The Obama Administration made the empowerment and protection of women and girls a central part of U.S. foreign policy and national security, as evidenced by key policies including the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, and the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally. In line with those policies, in 2013, the United States launched a new multimillion dollar initiative called Safe from the Start to better equip the humanitarian system to prevent and respond to gender-based violence around the world in the critical earliest days of an emergency. This joint State-USAID initiative is supporting the international and non-governmental organizations we support to hire new staff and launch innovative programs to make women and girls safer.

Along with the launch of innovative new programs, we also work with UN organizations such as the UN Population Fund to provide reproductive health services to women and girls in emergency situations, because we recognize pregnancy, childbirth, and broader needs related to reproductive health are especially acute during emergency situations and in refugee settings.

The Department also aims to build strong beginnings, strengthen families and keep them together, and enhance child protection around the world – the same goals outlined in the 2012-2017 U.S. Action Plan for Children in Adversity. My Bureau works to incorporate the needs of children affected by conflict in all its humanitarian programming – supporting international efforts to reunify families separated by conflict, funding primary education for refugee children, and supporting other child protection efforts in humanitarian response.

Another important initiative to support children is the “No Lost Generation” campaign. It addresses the immediate and long-term impacts of the Syria crisis on a generation of children and youth in Syria and the Near East region. Save the Children is another organization focusing on children in Syria and the region. Some of you may have seen its video that went viral depicting the life of a young girl in London whose life is overtaken by war in Aleppo, driving home the point that this can happen to anyone.

In addition to all the activity online related to this and the ‘childrenofsyria’ hashtag on Twitter, organizations like UNICEF and World Vision have recently published reports coinciding with the third anniversary of the Syria crisis - which depict the devastating impact the Syria crisis is having on children - really very sobering information.

Imagine tens of thousands of Syrian kids, ranging from first-graders to college students in refugee camps or in temporary accommodations for years and missing out on years of school: it is happening. Syrian college seniors who had one more semester to finish their degrees sit idle instead of starting their careers. While we strongly support primary and secondary education for refugee children and youth, the sheer scope of needs mean it is impossible to address all of the needs of refugee children and youth from Syria.

These children will be instrumental in helping to rebuild their country and communities, and it’s important that we help them develop their capacity even in the midst of conflict. The “No Lost Generation” initiative calls on the international community to provide $1 billion to support children affected by the Syria conflict and we want American citizens – and particularly young people – to become more informed and involved in what is happening.

Finally, PRM focuses on Refugee Resettlement. It goes without saying, this is probably going to be the part of my remarks that many of you are most familiar with - this key element of our strategy to ensure that populations of concern find durable solutions. This could mean returning home when it is safe, integrating locally in the countries of asylum, or being resettled in a third country, like the United States or the 26 other countries that welcome refugees.

Our resettlement program is the largest in the world and has welcomed more than 3 million refugees since 1975, and for the last 35 years, World Relief has been with us every step of the way- again, what a tremendous milestone for you, and for us, since resettlement truly is a partnership.

I mentioned this earlier, but since we are so proud of this, I am going to say it again: we achieved something great in 2013: 69,926 lives were provided with a fresh start through permanent resettlement. Coming this close to our target has not happened in more than 30 years.

Some of this success is because we are constantly working to refine and improve the admissions process. But a lot of this achievement was made possible because of the work of local resettlement agencies, like World Relief’s field offices. Collectively, World Relief resettled over 6,700 refugees and SIVs representing over 37 nationalities in fiscal year 2013.

Looking at this year - fiscal year 2014, the President has again authorized the admission of up to 70,000 refugees - we expect to admit more than 60 nationalities with continued strong arrivals from Iraq, Burma, and Bhutan. In 2015 and 2016, we expect an appreciable uptick in arrivals of Syrian refugees displaced by the current conflict.

In that vein, while I have already talked about our humanitarian assistance for Syrians, it is worth diving in on the refugee admissions part of this puzzle. Like any refugee displaced by conflict, our sincere hope is that one day the Syrians who have fled their country will be able to return home safely, and with dignity. Unfortunately, we know there are many who will never have the opportunity to go home. For those families, permanent resettlement in a third country, like the United States, will be the best hope for a chance to escape the violence, and build a new life. As UNHCR is ramping up its program for referring Syrian refugees for permanent resettlement, the United States stands ready to accept referrals to our program. We expect to receive thousands of Syrian refugee referrals from UNHCR by the end of calendar year 2014.

And as I preview what might be coming up in the near future, I must also acknowledge that refugee arrival numbers come at a time of shrinking state and local budgets, cuts in social services, and the challenges of raising private contributions. As you know, PRM has helped cope with economic challenges to the program by doubling the amount of funding provided on a per capita basis to receive and place refugees in 2010. We have provided modest annual increases since then, and are committed to continuing to do so.

We also are providing “floor funding” to our resettlement agency partners, essentially guaranteeing sufficient funding for services to 60,000 refugees so that program managers can plan and hire staff with the assurance that the funding will be there. Despite all these improvements, we know that many refugees are still struggling in the early weeks and months of their arrival in the States.

There are other challenges facing the program, and not all financial. There has been a surge in Unaccompanied Alien Children arrivals, which impacts PRM, you as the resettlement agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the administration as a whole.

These challenges lead me to ask: How can our domestic programs best address the needs of refugees? What more can we do to help refugees effectively and efficiently integrate into new communities?

Given the overall budget situation in Washington, we all acknowledge the need to widen the circle of domestic “stakeholders” in the refugee resettlement program. We need to ensure a warm reception for the refugees we resettle. We need to find creative ways to expand participation in the program at the local level and garner support for the program by community leaders.

PRM is increasingly reaching out to state and locally elected officials, employers, health clinics, schools, and others, during our domestic trips. We are acutely aware of the importance of early employment for refugees, and therefore of the importance of your developing strong relationships with responsible employers in your communities.

Employers that PRM staff and I have met in our travels around the United States have been among the strongest advocates for the refugee admissions program. Tyson Foods, which provides English language training to some refugees, has created community liaison positions to assist refugees navigate services and build bridges with the host community. A firm in Ft. Wayne, Indiana was inspired by the challenges refugees have overcome and was impressed by their work ethic. Resettled Burmese refugees now make up 10% of the workforce there. A Subway sandwich shop owner in Baltimore was eager to keep hiring more refugees as he said they were the best employees. I know that you all could name dozens, if not hundreds, of companies that are strong advocates for the program, and an essential part of the success of the US Refugee Admissions Program.

In Buffalo I visited a class for refugee minors who were resettled late in their high school years - they’re part of an innovative program to study and pass the GED and college entrance exams; I saw an elementary school there that was a miniature United Nations, that had found a way to balance integrating refugee children into mainstream education, while helping them maintain their touchstone of cultural heritage. In Chicago I met with restaurant executives that had made refugee hiring a cornerstone of their hiring process. After this event I am going to visit some refugee employers and training centers to see the amazing work being done right here in Denver.

I know that World Relief’s field offices, like other partners around the country, benefit from the volunteer work of thousands of highly motivated and caring community members. We recognize the strong one-on-one relationships developed when an individual agrees to help welcome a refugee to his or her community, and I know this is happening every day at your offices across the country. Whether it’s preparing home-cooked food for a family upon their arrival, helping to teach them English, or explaining how to navigate the local grocery store or bus system, these relationships are life-affirming and life-changing for both sides. These relationships also help build crucial support among Americans for the refugee resettlement program.

In just a minute, when we open it up to questions, I will be curious to hear from you what you all are doing to reach out to non-traditional stakeholders in your communities.

So as I wrap up my remarks, I want to again congratulate you and World Relief on reaching your platinum anniversary, and emphasize that the work you do on the frontlines is inspiring, important and sometimes unsung. Thank you for welcoming some of the world’s most vulnerable refugees and for helping them get on the path to a better future.

The work of communities and networks of volunteers helps to turn the promise of America - as a land that welcomes refugees - into a reality. Meeting you, hearing from you keeps those of us who are often caught up in the policy details motivated and focused on the human face of the important work we all share. The success of our resettlement program depends on you. Thank you for the part you play in letting refugees turn their stories of tragedy into ones of triumph.

With that, I am happy to take your questions and I look forward to your comments.


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