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Official highlights U.S. efforts on behalf of refugees
October 06, 2010

Official highlights U.S. efforts on behalf of refugees
Palwar Primary School in Southern Sudan is one of three education projects implemented by Jesuit Refugee Service and funded by the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration in Lobone Payam, Southern Sudan. Palwar opened in April 2010. (Christian Fuchs - Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
"Indeed, the protection of the most vulnerable – helping to advance their dignity and their rights – must be at the center of everything we do. This goal, of saving and safeguarding human life, is not only a moral imperative, but helps to avoid despair and desperation that fuels discontent and prevents reconciliation in societies in conflict." ~ Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Eric P. Schwartz

(Geneva, Switzerland) October 4, 2010 – Assistant Secretary of State  for Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) Eric P. Schwartz delivered the U.S. government’s plenary statement Monday, October 4, 2010, at the 61st session of the UNHCR Executive Committee in Geneva. Jesuit Refugee Service/USA has used grants from PRM to build and equip schools and train teachers in Southern Sudan. 

The text of Secretary Schwartz' statement follows:

Mr. Chairman, Mr. High Commissioner, distinguished delegates of governments and civil society, I’m very pleased to be in Geneva once again leading the United States delegation to the Executive Committee of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). I am grateful for the High Commissioner’s statement laying out the broad scope both of the accomplishments of UNHCR over the past year, and of the challenges that lie ahead.

As we move forward collectively to consolidate those accomplishments and address those challenges, I believe we must do so with protection directly in our sights. Indeed, the protection of the most vulnerable – helping to advance their dignity and their rights – must be at the center of everything we do. This goal, of saving and safeguarding human life, is not only a moral imperative, but helps to avoid despair and desperation that fuels discontent and prevents reconciliation in societies in conflict.

Because this protection perspective must inform everything we do, allow me to lay out a few basic propositions that inform our thinking and our engagement with UNHCR and with others on protection.

First, it is essential that humanitarians embrace broader and more integrated perspectives on protection, both conceptually and operationally. Whether or not protection has ever been the exclusive domain of the specially mandated agencies such as UNHCR, protection is now a collective responsibility that involves vigilance and action by the full range of UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, international organizations, donor governments, and hosting governments. Serious and sustained engagement of UNHCR with other parts of the international system – from peacekeepers to those negotiating political agreements to end conflicts which create suffering – has never been more important. And while first asylum and non-refoulement must remain at the heart of international refugee protection efforts, we must all rise to other protection challenges as well, such as combating gender-based violence and sexual exploitation and abuse, promoting freedom of movement, security and rights related to personal status, and many others. And humanitarians must weave a protective approach more deeply into the design of the programs relating to food, shelter, health, sanitation, among others – what some call the mainstreaming of protection. The challenge is to develop and further refine best practices that seek to empower local communities in such efforts.

Secondly, more ambitious objectives related to protection must be matched by sustained and measureable efforts to monitor and evaluate progress – including efforts that more clearly identify protection gaps that traditional humanitarian providers will be unable to fill in the absence of stronger action in the political and security realm.

Third, we must recognize that a strengthened commitment to protection – to saving and safeguarding lives – requires a willingness to engage in active humanitarian diplomacy and in both private and public advocacy. From South Asia to Central Africa to North America, humanitarian diplomacy and advocacy has enhanced the quality of protection efforts on the ground.  More importantly, it keeps faith with those vulnerable people whom UNHCR is mandated to seek to protect.  As a U.S. government official, for example, I don’t always relish being questioned – or even challenged – on policies or actions we are taking, but we must champion the right and responsibility of our partners to play this role.

One final proposition is that all of us must strive to practice at home what we preach in international forums like this one. For many donor governments, this relates to our policies on temporary protection, rescue at sea, treatment of asylum seekers on our territory, and many other issues. For refugee receiving countries, this often means gauging policy on safe haven and the appropriateness of returns not on the realities of geopolitics, but rather on a fair assessment of whether conditions in the country of origin, whether Burma or the Darfur region of Sudan, have changed sufficiently to enable people to return in safety.

On this general issue of practicing at home what we preach abroad, the United States has, over the past year, taken special interest in the U.S. refugee resettlement program – to ensure that we are providing adequate support for the 75,000 or so refugees we have been admitting annually. And, in fact, we found we could do more to help. Despite a very difficult operating environment – and with the generous support of our Congress – we were able to double the amount of assistance provided by the Department of State to incoming refugees in the first several months after their arrivals. This increase has amounted to about $70 million on an annual basis.

Mr. Chairman, informed by these general observations on protection, allow me to turn to four critical issues that impact UNHCR’s ambitious agenda – and its capacity to continue to play a meaningful role in protection.

First, we must effectively consolidate the budgetary reforms initiated by the High Commissioner that are beginning to take root. UNHCR’s efforts to present real needs should be matched by the resources necessary to address them are essential if the agency is to fulfill its protection mandate. Providing protection takes resources – both financial and human. While I recognize that UNHCR’s global needs-based budget has unfolded during difficult economic times, I am also mindful that we are here this week in Geneva to champion and support the world’s most vulnerable – the persecuted, the conflict-affected, and stateless persons. Thus, while frustration and donor fatigue are understandable, they are not good options as they contrast with the progress humanitarians have made in alleviating the suffering of tens of millions of people in recent years.

There’s much more we can do to advance this noble cause. For this reason, I’m pleased to report that the Obama Administration, with the strong endorsement of our Congress, has augmented our support for UNHCR. We have just concluded our 2010 fiscal year in which we provided UNHCR with over $700 million – our largest annual contribution in history.

Second, better coordination of humanitarian assistance is essential to better protection. Our commitment to UNHCR must be matched by a deep commitment to enhance the tools for coordination of the proliferation of humanitarian responders who are trying to safeguard lives and create the conditions for sustainable recovery around the world. We are at a critical crossroads – facing humanitarian emergencies of historical proportions.  Leadership is essential. We count on UNHCR to do its part, consistent with its mandate, resources, and guidance from Member States – in building the system for international humanitarian response. And we look forward to working with the new UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie A

Press Contact Information
Mr Christian Fuchs
202-462-0400 ext. 5946