United States Department of State
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
Washington, D.C. 20520
December 31, 2014
Dear Colleagues and Friends,
The holiday season and the end of the year is a chance to reflect on the past and look ahead to the New Year. The year 2014 opened with a set of terrible conflicts raging – including wars in Syria, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. These civil wars are characterized by indiscriminate violence and attacks on innocent civilians, as combatants flout widely accepted norms and principles. In June, UNHCR announced that more people were forcibly displaced by the end of 2013 – as refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced people – than at any time since World War II.
And then summer brought more bad news and a longer list of tragedies. ISIL’s attacks spread terror across Iraq. Bloody conflict in areas of southeastern Ukraine bordering Russia displaced hundreds of thousands of lives and left thousands dead. Fighting broke out between Hamas and Israel, unaccompanied Central American children arrived in record numbers at the United States’ southern border, and Africa faced the worst Ebola epidemic in history.
Despite this daunting list, humanitarians and supporters of humanitarian causes can take pride in what we have achieved. Aid groups that faced every conceivable obstacle – donor fatigue, staffing shortages, impassable roads, blockades and attacks –still found ways to keep millions of people alive. Humanitarians managed to stave off a man-made famine in South Sudan and to bring aid to besieged cities in Syria. Throughout the Middle East, a vaccination campaign that has reached 25 million children has helped contain the spread of polio.
The United States led the world’s humanitarian efforts by again serving as top donor. With the support of lawmakers from both parties, the State Department and USAID together provided more than $6 billion in humanitarian assistance this year. U.S. contributions powered the work of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the World Food Program, UNICEF, and other leading aid agencies. We also played a role in encouraging other nations to give, some made large donations to UN agencies for the first time. Kuwait organized a second international pledging conference for the Syria crisis that Secretary Kerry attended and gave generously itself. And Saudi Arabia stepped in at a critical moment with significant support for Iraq.
The leaders of UN and other humanitarian organizations called attention to the world’s crises and worked assiduously to mount and mobilize effective responses. Aid workers on the front lines showed professionalism and valor, even as they saw colleagues murdered by terrorists and felled by Ebola.
Countries that took in refugees deserve credit for keeping their borders open as the numbers of refugees climbed. Their hospitality saved countless lives and involved true acts of generosity. The massive influx of Syrian refugees in the Middle East is weighing heavily on communities where people are poor and housing and jobs scarce; there is widespread agreement that development dollars should be directed to helping societies that are coping with the arrivals of large numbers of refugees.
Even during challenging times, humanitarians must persevere. We must defend and rally support for humanitarian principles. We must attract new donors from across the globe, collaborate more, and seek new ways to respond nimbly and effectively. Our priorities and programs must evolve, along with refugees’ needs. Millions now crowd into cities, stay for years, and need ways to support themselves, so innovations such as electronic cash cards and mobile health clinics are essential. Because victims of conflict should thrive and not just survive, we must coordinate relief and development assistance. And we should also capitalize on the growing international momentum behind stopping all forms of violence against women or “gender based” violence. We know that women, girls, and children are particularly vulnerable during crisis, but abuses can be prevented and perpetrators held accountable.
This year we commemorated the 20th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development – called the “Cairo Conference.” We noted the tremendous progress that has been made around the world to reduce poverty and maternal and child mortality and send girls and boys to school. However, global progress has been unequal, often hampered by discrimination and inequality. John Kerry attended the Cairo Conference as a U.S. Senator, and now, as Secretary of State, he points to the clear evidence that human and reproductive rights, women’s empowerment, and economic development are closely intertwined. At a 20th anniversary celebration in September, the Secretary said:
“We all know that investing in women and youth isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s a strategic necessity. It’s how you create stability, foster sustainable societies, and promote shared prosperity, because societies where women and girls are safe, where women are empowered to exercise their rights and move their communities forward, these societies are more prosperous and more stable – not occasionally but always.”
I’ve also welcomed the growing interest in helping migrants. This year nearly five thousand migrants died in transit, more than double last year’s death toll. The majority perished at sea — more than three thousand drowned in the Mediterranean. I recently attended a dialogue in Geneva on Protecting Migrants at Sea organized by UNHCR where experts from around the world agreed: whatever the political and logistical hurdles, our first priority must be saving lives. We also recognized that migrants need to be screened for particular vulnerabilities, e.g. in the case of unaccompanied kids, trafficking victims, or because they are fleeing violence or persecution.
In the United States, we can take pride in our program that helps refugees restart their lives here. In 2014, for the second year in a row, we resettled nearly 70,000 refugees of more than 65 nationalities who are now making their homes in cities and towns across our country. Once again, we ensured that they arrived at an even pace throughout the year to give them and their new communities the best possible chance at success. While we continued to admit large numbers of Iraqis, Burmese, Somalis, and Bhutanese, we also are starting to see growing numbers of Congolese and Syrians – two populations that will make up an increasing share of our resettled refugee population in coming years.
Fortunately, our bureau works with organizations that not only share our concerns, but also share our determination to find solutions to seemingly intractable problems. It is a privilege to engage on these issues alongside a host of the world’s best aid organizations. I realize that this letter serves as a reminder of a series of tragic events around the world, but I also write to remind you, our colleagues and friends, that much is being done every day to save lives, alleviate pain and suffering, and help some of the world’s most vulnerable to find safety. Thank you for your interest in and support for our work.
Anne C. Richard
Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, & Migration