Assistance to Refugees: A Critical Component of Our Foreign Policy

Posted by Eric P. Schwartz
June 20, 2011
Sudanese Refugee Women in Chad

Today is World Refugee Day, an international commemoration aimed at highlighting the needs of refugees and vulnerable people around the world, as well as to promote sustained commitment to international humanitarian response. And recent events have been a stark reminder that upholding that commitment is as important as ever.

You've seen it on the news -- displacement and suffering from crises in the Middle East and Africa affecting hundreds of thousands of people. The United States is responding by providing over $80 million in humanitarian assistance for those impacted by the conflict in Libya and over $51 million in humanitarian assistance to refugees, internally displaced people (IDPs), and other conflict-affected populations in Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia.

This assistance is part of the worldwide efforts of the U.S. government to ease suffering and promote conditions for reconciliation and peace. Working with our partners throughout the government, the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) provides life-sustaining assistance and support around the world; our programs, policies, and initiatives seek to protect the world's most vulnerable populations -- refugees and survivors of conflict and persecution, including women and children at risk. We work in partnership with international and non-governmental organizations that are on the frontlines of humanitarian response: the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and a broad range of NGO partners who implement aid projects and offer us critical guidance on policy. We also work diplomatically to engage new allies and donors outside the traditional humanitarian realm. And of course, we also encourage governments hosting refugees and displaced persons to adopt policies that reflect tolerance and a commitment to humanitarianism.

The U.S. Congress has consistently supported this critical humanitarian mission, funding for which amounts to far less than one percent of our federal budget. It is an exceptionally wise investment that reflects the most noble instincts and values of the American people. It also enables us to secure critical support for humanitarian objectives from other governments, and to exercise world leadership on international humanitarian response issues. And it helps us to promote reconciliation and peace in parts of the world where despair and desperation not only can threaten stability, but also important U.S. national interests.

UNHCR's theme for this year's World Refugee Day is "Do 1 Thing" on behalf of the world's refugees. Please know that we in the U.S. government are seeking to do many good things on behalf of displaced and vulnerable victims of conflict, but are so well aware that there is so much more to do. We take inspiration from this World Refugee Day to continue and strengthen our efforts on behalf of refugees and other vulnerable persons around the world.



Nevada, USA
June 21, 2011

John in Nevada writes:

Assistant Secretary Schwartz has lead from the front. He has been on the frontlines in many countries to make sure State Department goals (humanitarian,refugee,other) are being met. Many may consider Assistant Secretary Schwartz a true American Warrior.

Mohamed K.
June 21, 2011

Mohamed K. in Egypt writes:

As being a UNHCR asylum seeker in Egypt escaping from my country Sudan after facing persecution due to my religious belief as Christian, I would like to thank the government of United States for its huge and continuous support for the Sudanese and African refugees in spite of the economical and political challenges . I just would like to send a message to the US government in this very special day that the status religious freedom in Sudan is getting worse day by day.

June 21, 2011

John in Canada writes:

The plight of displaced refugees around the world is a problem too few of us ever think about. In our minds we know they are there but many people have a complete disconnect to their issues. When you spend just a moment connecting one on one with a person that has traversed across several countries and hear just a small bit of their plight; it is something that you won’t forget.

While reading and learning is one thing; making a personal connection is far more powerful. Of the few I have met in my travels, they are thought about as asylum seekers or refugees often viewed in a negative fashion – they are much more – they are fellow human beings in search of a better life, in search of a home.

All but one individual that I have met wanted, if life was better to return home to their families, to their countries. These were the lucky ones that made it to western countries. I could not imagine being displaced for whatever reason to end up in tent cities, in no man’s land and struggling with my own family.

The rules, regulations, laws and general hardships such people must face are quite despicable and inhuman. If we had effective governance the world over and some basic human decency; their troubles would not be so.

Hopefully one day people globally will be able to return to their homelands; wherever they feel that should be and live in peace, without threat. I fear however with the situation in the world today a considerable amount of aid will be needed – much more than we need now and now we seem not to have enough.

God bless those that work on the front lines and keep up the good work. I do hope that one day you will all work yourselves out of a job.

I was talking to my wife yesterday and she was reviewing job postings at various aid agencies. She explained to me that they seek a variety of people with a variety of degrees; otherwise there are no positions. I think this is very poor and contributes to the problems of displaced people and people in our own societies.

I must point out that a lot of the problems today that we face in our own countries and abroad have been shaped largely by policies designed by what is deemed educated peoples, holders of many degrees. There can be no denying this fact.

I have always held the belief that the greatest resource of every nation is their people. When we create road blocks that destroy opportunity or pathways for what is a great swath of our communities; we destroy our futures and cripple our economies. In my view this is not very educated or intelligent action on our parts.

Now it seems that to even assist and help people in today’s world, we must adorn ourselves with paper. I wonder what would have happened if Jesus, Mohamed or Mosses had such chains placed upon them? I comically think today that if a prophet from God were to come to us; no one would listen because they would lack degree x, y, z. Although it’s not so funny.

This is very sad indeed. For a moment, think of some successful wealthy people out there that they themselves would not be able to work for aid agencies but they can and do run successful business. Google the wealthy without higher education, there are a lot of them.

Now think of not just aid agencies but business in our own countries; our policies toward education or a perceived lack of one is costing us around the world our futures. We need everyone playing there part and given past performance higher education is not the total answer. Knowledge is important; Wisdom even more so.

Texas, USA
June 22, 2011

Clark in Texas writes:

We should all know that since the potential for civil war is prevelent in the world and looks like it will be this way in the future, the potential for refugee problems will also be prevelent. This brings something up. Maybe our leaders could get together and see if the civil affairs division within the UN can be more effective in the prevention of civil wars. Maybe the civil affairs division can mentor other regional and subregional IGOs such as SICA,AU,OAS,and etecetera to better handle or prevent civil wars. Also it looks like the state department does not have a division that focuses on preventing civil wars. If they can create one without increasing their budget it would be helpful. If not, they can possibly make an argument that this entity would help the state department mentor other nations and national entities to prevent civil wars; and thus keep us out of civil war conflicts. Improving and creating these entities should represent a positive start toward reducing international commitments toward handling civil wars and potential civil wars. Data and studies point out that civil wars and terrorism are going to represent the major acts in the future not state vs. state warfare.

Idaho, USA
June 23, 2011

Mark in Idaho writes:

The UN may need to reform, but it needs to keep the elements that have made it successful for keeping the international community from experiencing another world war. If it focuses exclusively on preventing terrorism and civil wars, then it may loose its ability to prevent another World War. For example, the maintenance of bilateral and multilateral treaties was one of the reasons that World War I happened. The UN provides a forum such as the General Assembly and Security Council to help prevent something like this from happening again.


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