|Julia V. Taft, Assistant Secretary for|
Population, Refugees, and Migration
Statement before the Subcommittee on
International Operations and Human Rights of the
House International Relations Committee,
Washington, DC, March 9, 1999.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee: I am delighted to be with you today to discuss our FY 2000 budget request and plans for the United States to remain the worldās leader when it comes to refugee assistance and protection. Before I begin, I want to convey a note of thanks to this committee for its unfailing support for refugees and conflict victims worldwide, and to you, Mr. Chairman, for your personal interest and leadership of this subcommittee.
Unhappily, since last February when I testified before this committee, we have had to face new refugee emergencies involving Sierra Leone, Kosovo, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Refugee protection has continued to erode in many parts of the world. Civilians are increasingly at risk of armed attack, and humanitarian workers risk their lives every day to bring life-saving assistance to those in need. The constraints on our work are many. At the same time, we must recognize the achievements of the international community in continuing to extend the limits of our humanitarian efforts to reach populations in need. Last December, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Soon, in 1999, the world will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions which guide the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross -- ICRC -- and the 50th anniversary of the founding statute of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees -- UNHCR. We are proud that the program we are discussing today provides strong U.S. support for these two fine and essential institutions.
Today, I want to talk with you not just about the numbers but the people behind those numbers. The Migration and Refugee Assistance -- MRA -- appropriation, together with the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund --ERMA -- are two of the major instruments of U.S. humanitarian response. The Secretary has often said humanitarian response is the human face of our U.S. foreign policy. Our FY 2000 budget request is designed to strengthen that response.
International Protection. Conflict victims need international protection, either as refugees or as non-combatants in close proximity to a conflict. Unfortunately, many asylum seekers cross borders into countries without effective legal protection regimes. One of our priorities is to support the campaign of UNHCR to strengthen the laws and practices in countries throughout the world, not least by promoting accession to the 1967 Protocol to the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees.
International protection also includes physical protection in complex humanitarian emergencies, a factor that can complicate access to populations in order to provide assistance. In all of these cases, we emphasize the protection of the vulnerable people in any population, such as women heads of household or unaccompanied children. Sexual violence and children forced to be combatants in armed conflict are two of the most challenging protection threats facing us today. Armed attacks on refugee camps are a continuing security threat. As a recent report on Africa by the UN Secretary General pointed out, preserving the civilian nature of refugee camps is crucial. In this regard, for example, last year, we made a special contribution to UNHCR to protect against militarization of camps in Tanzania. This year, we will continue to support efforts by UNHCR and the Governments of Guinea and Liberia to limit vulnerability of camps for Sierra Leonean refugees, keeping the camps neutral and secure.
In this decade, the international protection agenda increasingly has had to include physical security for humanitarian workers; tragically, even the Red Cross emblem is no longer its own guarantee of protection. We are taking steps to ensure that appropriate security measures for humanitarian workers are included in programs we support.
Resettlement. The Refugee Act of 1980 provides the authority for the U.S. to offer a permanent solution to individuals who have been persecuted because of their religious or political beliefs, race, ethnicity, and association with the U.S. We have used this authority to resettle refugees who were political prisoners, persecuted former U.S. Government employees, religious or ethnic minorities, or family members of U.S. citizens. Active U.S. resettlement has demonstrated our willingness to share the burden and encouraged host countries to maintain asylum for other refugees.
U.S. refugee resettlement is at the heart of the interest of the American people and of Congress. Since World War II, one source of exposure to U.S. foreign policy for hundreds of thousands of Americans has been what they have seen on the faces of refugees that they have welcomed in their communities and homes. We are also working hard to make our program more responsive to immediate protection needs that are made known to us by UNHCR or by our embassies overseas. Permanent resettlement in any country provides a refugee with a new lease on life. We are working to strengthen and expand the number of resettlement offers from the international coalition of refugee resettlement countries. This effort requires an investment of resources in UNHCR to expand its own ability to identify and refer cases to us or to other countries for resettlement.
Voluntary Repatriation and Reintegration. As part of the connection between humanitarian actions, resolving conflict, and preventing future conflict, we have seen the importance of refugee return and successful reintegration to a sustainable peace in the country of origin. Despite the obstacles created by those in the former Yugoslavia that oppose the creation of viable multi-ethnic states, U.S. support for return of ethnic minorities in Croatia and Bosnia, including the Bosnia "Open Cities" initiative, has resulted in more than 50,000 minority returns. We have worked for years to lay the groundwork for coordinated approaches among relief and development agencies. That work will continue and we will emphasize the importance of community-based development to achieve effective reintegration, as well as tolerance and reconciliation activities, whose importance has been clearly recognized in Bosnia and Rwanda, to cite a couple of examples.
Standards of Care. Most of the funding we provide to international organizations and NGOs goes to provide the basics of life to refugees and conflict victims who are not in a position to care for themselves and their families. We seek to ensure that the level of assistance provided is determined by the actual needs of the population, that it does not exceed to an appreciable degree from the level of care of the surrounding population, that it does not vary appreciably from region to region, and we seek to ensure that it meets basic established international standards. A new set of basic minimum standards (so-called "sphere" standards) are now being compiled by a group of cooperating international and non-governmental organizations. We believe that providing education, particularly to women and girls, has a significant impact on their futures and on the development of their countries upon their repatriation. This is a major priority for us in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, particularly in view of the restrictions that the Taliban has placed on girlsā education inside Afghanistan. We look forward to a time when all humanitarian responses take into account the needs and abilities of women and the needs of children, and continue to work to make that a reality as well.
Response Capacity. In the aftermath of the Gulf war, we have worked even harder to improve the emergency response capacity of the international community. The multilateral consensus on humanitarian response has been shaken slightly and produced a decreased funding trend that is worrisome and that we will address with other donors. We cannot allow the international communityās emergency response capacity to be weakened. Funds must be available for an effective, agreed multilateral response, and we will work with both donors and agencies to solidify the international response capacity.
With our international and NGO partners in humanitarian response, we have also focused attention on identifying what might be done to prevent such human calamities from happening again. Among the major conclusions has been the importance of political will in the international community to take political action either to help prevent or bring to resolution the conflicts that necessitate the humanitarian response. We are determined to ensure that the political and humanitarian elements of a crisis are integrated.
International Migration. The prominence of migration issues whenever senior officials, from the President on down, visit Central America and Mexico provide proof of the importance that our hemispheric neighbors place on the subject of migration. In the regional migration dialogue that we have established in North and Central America, we have joined the priorities of our neighbors to discuss migration and human rights, and migration and development, with our interests in addressing trafficking in migrants and in interdiction and return of undocumented migrants from outside the region. The 1998 Summit of the Americas includes a new chapter on migrant workers for which PRM will be the coordinator not only for the U.S. Government, but for the entire hemisphere.
We are working hard to promote a balance between the law enforcement elements of migration -- the interests of the state -- with the protection aspects -- the interests of the individual. The 1996 CIS Migration Conference was an enormous success in gaining international consensus in this regard. We have established a dynamic dialogue with the European Union on migration in which we will continue to stress the benefits that legal migration brings not only to the migrants themselves but to the recipient country. We will continue to explore ways of establishing comprehensive approaches to migration issues, for example, through our support to the Government of Thailandās decision to host a regional migration conference for Southeast Asia in April. We also will promote special care taken to protect the most vulnerable migrants. Our pioneering efforts in drawing U.S. Government and international attention to trafficking in women has spawned enormous attention and activity both to protect its victims and to prevent the practice.
Population. This hearing is focused on the refugee and migration elements of my bureauās portfolio. But, although all program and associated staff costs are paid through other government accounts, PRM is the focal point in the U.S. Government for international population policy. Therefore, I believe it is important to spend a moment outlining our goals related to population and the connections to other elements of the PRM portfolio.
You know that peacebuilding in the aftermath of an emergency, or linked to refugee repatriation, is positively affected when sustainable development can be established. Population activities are crucial to effective development. The historic consensus reached at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development by 179 countries on a 20-year Program of Action replaces human numbers with human needs, replaces coercion with choices, and moves from a demography-centered to a democracy-centered approach to stabilizing global population growth while safeguarding the environment and advancing economic growth. It recognized that reproductive health and reproductive rights, womenās empowerment, migration, technology and research, and economic and social development underscore the integral and mutually reinforcing linkages between population and development.
FY 2000 Budget Request
With those overall goals in mind, let us move to specifics of the budget request. While the total number of refugees and conflict victims has, we hope, peaked for this decade, there continue to be known problems that the Administration is requesting additional funds in FY 2000 to address head-on. Our FY 2000 request includes $660 million for migration and refugee assistance or "MRA" and $30 million to replenish the Presidentās Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund or "ERMA." From FY 1997 to FY 1999, our budget remained constant, while we stretched our human and financial resources to address the needs. Therefore, we have requested $660 million for MRA -- an increase of $20 million from FY 1999. These funds support four primary activities: overseas assistance, the admission of up to 80,000 refugees to the United States, a grant of $60 million to support refugee resettlement in Israel, and $13.8 million to cover administrative expenses of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.
Assistance and Protection for Refugees
And Conflict Victims
Regarding overseas assistance, in FY 2000, we have requested $463.3 million, an increase of over $8.6 million from the FY 1999 estimate. This request will support continued assistance to populations of concern and the following initiatives to better protect and assist refugees and conflict victims worldwide:
- Ensure basic international life-sustaining standards of care are provided in all geographical regions, particularly in Africa;
- Work with other governments; international organizations; and NGOs to enhance international protection for vulnerable groups and address the physical security of refugees, conflict victims, and humanitarian workers;
- Enhance basic education opportunities for refugees worldwide, especially for women and girls;
- Increase our migration policy activities that promote support for basic human rights of migrants and educate them about the risks associated with irregular migration; and,
- Expand our consultation and coordination with other donors and international organizations to ensure that the collective international effort meets critical humanitarian needs in the most efficient manner possible.
To accomplish these objectives, we will continue to support programs of UNHCR, ICRC, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East -- UNRWA, the International Organization for Migration --IOM, refugee-related activities of the World Food Program -- WFP, and other international organizations. Our support to NGOs that carry out relief services overseas to populations of concern continues to increase.
To give you an example of a region requiring substantial MRA overseas assistance resources and possibly ERMA funds in the future, letās examine events of the last months in West Africa and Sierra Leone, in particular. The 8-year civil war in Sierra Leone has evolved into a tragic humanitarian emergency. Fighting escalated again in December when rebels launched an offensive against the Nigerian-led ECOMOG peacekeeping troops supporting the democratically elected government and protecting civilians from rebel depredations. The rebels captured the city of Makeni and then attacked the capital Freetown, burning 80% of the east end of town and committing a series of horrific human rights violations before being driven back by ECOMOG forces.
The war has produced approximately 460,000 refugees in neighboring countries and perhaps as many as 1 million internally displaced, including 150,000 in Freetown. The recent fighting has so far produced more than 4,000 new refugees in Guinea and Liberia. As many as 5,000 civilians lost their lives during the fighting for Freetown, and many were burned, raped, mutilated, and/or kidnapped by rebel forces. The U.S. Government's humanitarian response has been coordinated and swift. So far this fiscal year, the U.S. Government has contributed some $32 million in earmarked funds to the Sierra Leone crisis along with other unearmarked contributions toward the region. Last year, the U.S. Government contributed nearly $60 million.
I went to West Africa last summer with a number of my European counterparts to focus attention to the crisis in Sierra Leone and encourage the most effective humanitarian response possible on the part of international community and international relief agencies. This trip illustrated the integrated approach that I propose we take into FY 2000 -- life-sustaining standards of care, donor coordination, focus on international protection, and a strengthened response capacity not only of international organizations and international NGOs, but also of the host authorities and indigenous NGOs.
There is little doubt -- the United States is, and will continue to be, the most generous place on earth for refugees. Resettlement continues to be a U.S. Government foreign policy priority. My bureau is just one part of a major effort by governmental and non-governmental partners to "rescue" those in need of international protection or those who are of special humanitarian interest to the U.S. We work in close partnership with other government agencies -- particularly INS and HHS -- international organizations -- UNHCR and IOM -- and non-governmental partners -- national voluntary agencies and grassroots organizations throughout the U.S., and a large number of individuals in host communities. In recent years, we have been emphasizing the "rescue" aspects of the U.S. resettlement program, making our resettlement program more flexible to enable us to respond to cases in immediate need of resettlement as a means of protection.
In FY 2000, we are requesting $122.9 million for refugee admissions, an increase of $20.54 million from the FY 1999 estimate. The Presidentās budget request would fund the admission of up to 80,000 refugees to the U.S. -- 5,000 above the funded level in the FY 1999 budget. I wish to note that in FY 1999, in addition to the funded level, 3,000 additional unfunded numbers are included in the admissions ceiling to total 78,000. For FY 2000, approximately $10 million is required to finance the higher admissions level. The additional $10+ million supports increases in the baseline costs for transportation requirements, additional costs associated with our efforts to process "hard to reach" refugees as processing locations multiply, and a proposed increase in the level of reception and placement grants to U.S. voluntary resettlement agencies in support of domestic resettlement. The FY 2000 refugee admissions level and specific regional ceilings will be set by the President after the FY 2000 congressional consultations process.
The U.S. resettles more refugees each year than are permanently resettled in all other countries of the world combined. This has been the case for years, including during the current Administration. Since the Refugee Act of 1980 was passed, annual refugee admissions have ranged from as high as 207,000 in 1980, reflecting the Vietnamese boat people crisis, to a low of 61,000 in 1983.
In the last 6 years, the U.S. resettlement program has become more diverse. This year, 60% of refugees will come from Africa, the former Yugoslavia, the Near East and South Asia, and Latin America -- admissions for these groups have grown from 20,000 in 1993 to a target of more than 40,000 this year. Only 40% of the authorized refugee admissions will come from Southeast Asia and countries of the former Soviet Union. In 1993, when the current Administration took office, we were still resettling large numbers of religious minorities from the former Soviet Union that had long been denied the opportunity to reunite with family members in the U.S. When added to the then-large program for Indochinese resettlement, both groups accounted for 100,000 of 120,000 resettled here that year.
Our resettlement program in Africa is an example of this diversity. In FY 1999, the funded admissions ceiling for Africa jumped from 7,000 to 12,000. Last year, we provided access to the program to more than 19 nationalities. We will do at least that well this year, if not better. We are working hard to respond to the needs and bring in 12,000 refugees from Africa. One of the most significant aspects of the programās growth is that it is occurring without benefit of a single dominant group. Instead, we are reaching out across the continent to find those most in need and developing plans and resources to process them where we find them. In other words, we are responding to what I believe is the most important mandate of the resettlement program -- rescue those refugees for whom resettlement is truly essential.
Turning to another region of the world, we have faced considerable questioning recently, including from members of this committee, regarding our plans to complete the Orderly Departure Program from Vietnam -- ODP -- and complete the processing of the Resettlement Opportunity for Vietnamese Returnees -- ROVR. I want to address those concerns directly and to underline my intention to conclude that program consistent with our past commitments.
Over the past 20 years, ODP has provided resettlement opportunities for more than 500,000 Vietnamese. This summer, the new United States Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City will open, and the Consulate will assume responsibility for the processing of immigrant visa cases. This is good news. It is based on real and very positive changes that have occurred within that country since 1975 and represents a turning point in our relationship with Vietnam. We can now operate a normal immigration program there as we do throughout the world.
We also expect, by the end of this fiscal year, to complete the processing of nearly all of the ODP and ROVR program cases. Residual aspects of that program -- such as the U11 program for former government employees -- can be accomplished out of Ho Chi Minh City. Therefore, after nearly 20 years of providing outstanding service, we will be able to close the ODP processing center in Thailand, with substantial savings. In anticipation of this, we established a small Resettlement Assistance Unit in HCMC attached to the Consulate to handle Amerasian and Visas 93 cases. That unit will also handle any residual ODP cases and on a case-by-case basis other cases of interest to the U.S. Government in need of refugee resettlement.
I believe that this transition must be accomplished in a manner which will continue to provide adequate protection and services to Vietnamese seeking refugee status. Therefore, building upon recommendations made by this committee and others, I am looking to supplement the Resettlement Assistance Unit staff by drawing on experienced expatriate staff to help refugee applicants prepare for their interviews, by ensuring that all interviews are conducted with expatriate interpreters, and by working with INS to ensure that INS adjudicators receive special training similar to that received by the ROVR teams. The current ODP Director will soon be involved in the opening of the full service consular section at the Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, which will require him to focus primarily on immigration matters. Therefore, we are planning to send to HCMC a refugee officer to oversee for the Department of State the implementation of the U11 and other related refugee programs.
I am pleased to report that we have just about completed the processing of the ROVR cases. The majority of the approved cases are expected to arrive in the U.S. before the end of FY 1999. The final number of persons approved for resettlement in the U.S. is expected to be about 17,200. By early summer, we expect to complete interviewing the remaining re-education camp detainees and their eligible family members, and anticipate that the majority of these individuals will arrive in the U.S. by the end of this fiscal year.
With regard to the remaining ODP caseload, at the end of 1996, after the Government of Vietnam informed us that it would no longer issue exit permits to former U.S. Government employees -- so-called U11s -- because of the low approval rate, the U.S. suspended further processing of these cases. We recently completed a review of this decision, and I have determined that we have an obligation to process those applicants who have not been interviewed. We are prepared to begin the process of identifying any remaining qualified applicants immediately.
The Southeast Asian admissions program has been the largest and most successful in U.S. history. On a personal note, it gives me a special sense of achievement because I was Director of the task force in 1975, which brought the first 130,000 Indochinese refugees to the U.S. then. The program has consistently enjoyed a close partnership among all those involved -- the executive branch, Congress, the voluntary agencies, communities around the country, and the refugees themselves. While we are prepared to continue to examine cases of people at risk of persecution now, other Vietnamese who wish to apply for U.S. admission should become part of the vibrant Vietnam-U.S. immigration program.
Our program in the former Soviet Union is also going through changes. We have, over the course of the program, resettled more than 360,000 refugees. For the past several years, however, the number of annual applicants has declined. And, we have a large backlog of individuals -- over 34,000 thousand -- who were approved a year ago or longer but who have not departed. We are now in the process of contacting those people, with a view to sorting out those individuals who need help in order to leave from those who no longer intend to depart.
In view of changes in the former Soviet Union since the initiation of this program, the Administration has taken a year-by-year approach to the renewal of the Lautenberg Amendment which underlies the FSU program. In view of disturbing revival of anti-Semitism in Russia, the Administration will again support a one-year renewal of the Lautenberg Amendment. However, I do think that it is time for the Administration, Congress, and interested groups to think about what happens to this program in the future.
News about humanitarian disasters and migration and refugee flows fill the U.S. press each day. Humanitarian work is connected inextricably to the "political" side of foreign policy. The programs we support address very real security concerns for beneficiaries and for humanitarian workers. Refugees in need of protection can attain a lifetime benefit by resettlement in this or another country. International standards of care must be adopted and implemented. Such goals require substantial resources, but their impact is literally life-giving.
Continued strong bipartisan congressional support for humanitarian programs is essential for continued U.S. leadership on these issues, and we will count on your continued good guidance to help refine our thinking and direct our U.S. refugee programs to the people and places that need them most. As I did last year, I encourage you and your staff to travel to see PRM-supported activities in the field, to see where the money goes, and talk to the people we are assisting. Experience has shown that when disaster strikes, the American people expect this government to react quickly to aid the survivors of humanitarian crises. We will continue to do so with your support so that we will be able better to address the needs of refugees and conflict victims worldwide through humanitarian assistance. [End of Document]
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