The PRM Quarterly|
Letter from Assistant Secretary Julia Taft
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
U.S. Department of State, January 28, 2000
Dear Friend of PRM:
With the crisis in the Caucasus, ongoing conflicts in Africa, the continuing challenges in the Balkans, and East and West Timor, the last 3 months of the old year kept the humanitarian community engaged right to the end. It is a sad reality that the first weeks of the new year find us just as involved with helping those affected by the mistakes of lessons unlearned in the past. This edition of our informal Quarterly updates bureau highlights and activities from mid-October to January. I sign it having just returned from visiting India and Bhutan and braced with the knowledge that as much as we have done, there is still a lot more to do.
A budget at long last: After nearly 2 months of operations under short-term continuing resolutions, the final omnibus spending bill passed by the Congress and signed by the President in November 1999, provided the bureau with its budget levels for the full fiscal year (October 1, 1999 - September 30, 2000). The Migration and Refugee Assistance account received $622,625,000, approximately $37 million less than the President's original FY2000 request of $660,000,000. The appropriation for the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA) account was $12.5 million, nearly $18 million less than the President's request. Remaining funds from the Kosovo supplemental appropriation which by law are still available for use in FY 2000 will cushion the effect of these reductions in the President's budget request. The cut did, however, require me to reduce our planned level of funded refugee admissions in FY 2000 from 90,000 to 85,000 people.
Population legislation: FY 2000 legislation contains new restrictions on U.S. international family planning assistance that severely limits U.S. assistance to foreign non-governmental and multilateral organizations that use non-U.S. Government funds for abortion-related activities in their own countries. Although the President waived these restrictions (invoking a mandatory $12.5 million cut in doing so), only $15 million of the $372.5 million FY 2000 population funding may be provided to organizations that conduct these activities -- activities that are legal in the United States. Responding to this situation, 3 months before sending the rest of next year's budget request to Congress, the President took the unusual step of announcing that he will propose increasing U.S. support for these programs from $372.5 million to $541.6 million in FY 2001. Both the President and Secretary Albright have made it clear that they are committed to securing more funding and eliminating the restrictions in FY 2001.
Funding actions: In the first quarter of FY 2000, PRM contributed $100 million to the U N High Commissioner for Refugees, sending a strong signal of our support for UNHCR for its critical role in providing protection and assistance to refugees and for the leadership of High Commissioner Sadako Ogata. I am pleased to note that, given the undeserved criticism the U.S. gets about aid to Africa, half of this funding -- $50 million -- is for UNHCR's programs in Africa. The remainder is to support the organization's activities in other regions of the world and at headquarters. In November, the President authorized the bureau the use of $40 million from his ERMA Fund to respond to the humanitarian emergencies in the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation and in East and West Timor.
International Red Cross: This quarter, the quadrennial International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent took place in Geneva. General (Ret.) John Shalikashvili, who spoke from personal experience of the importance of the Geneva Conventions, led our delegation. Throughout, we worked closely with the American Red Cross, joining in advocacy for the full membership in the movement of Israel's national society, the Red Shield of David. This coming together renewed the spirit and dedication of the international Red Cross/Red Crescent movement and reaffirmed commitment to the principles on which it was founded. Through its Plan of Action the conference decided on measures that should be taken to protect victims of conflict through greater respect for humanitarian law and humanitarian action in times of conflict. For its part, the U.S. Government pledged to support future efforts in the areas of protection of women and children in armed conflict, international emergency relief, international humanitarian law dissemination, and assistance to war-affected children.
Kosovo and the Balkans: PRM Deputy Marguerite Houze traveled to Bosnia and Croatia in November to view humanitarian conditions and review PRM's role in supporting the return of refugees to their homes in that area as called for in the Dayton Accords. The admission of refugees into the U.S. resulting from the Bosnia and Kosovo crises continues, albeit at a somewhat reduced pace. Refugees previously in the processing queue in Belgrade -- primarily Krajina Serbs and other non-Albanians uprooted during the Kosovo conflict -- are now interviewed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Romania. Through the International Organization for Migration we continue to assist Kosovars who resettled in this country last spring and summer and wish to return to Kosovo. PRM funding for return travel of Kosovars will continue until May 1.
Africa: While the cease-fire in Sierra Leone holds, there is still insecurity. The large number of Sierra Leoneans who fled to Guinea during the war continues to challenge the humanitarian community. PRM's Senior Deputy Alan Kreczko visited both countries in November as part of a multi-donor mission led by the Office of the Coordinator of UN Humanitarian Affairs. Alan was at the United Nations last week for the Security Council's open session, which focused on refugees and internally displaced persons in Africa. Angola, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo are also being highlighted during January which, as chair of the UNSC, Ambassador Holbrooke has designated "Africa Month."
East Timor: The UN Transitional Administration in East Timor is accelerating its work on the transition to full independence. This includes a substantial focus on humanitarian issues, including the return of refugees. PRM staff are there to help with the relief effort. Nearly 130,000 refugees have returned to East Timor. We think that as many as 110,000 remain in West Timor and that many of them may choose not to return to East Timor, posing yet another challenge to our work there. Alan Kreczko also visited these areas in November to observe firsthand the progress of the relief effort.
We hope you find these quarterly letters useful in bringing you up to date on what PRM has done and giving you an idea of what lies ahead. We face the future redoubling our efforts to make a difference for those forced to leave their homes and help families in the developing world. Best wishes for success throughout the year.
Ten days after mailing the Quarterly Newsletter to you, we post it on our Internet site. It's easily accessed by going to PRM Update, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.
Julia V. Taft
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