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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal Julia V. Taft, Assistant Secretary of State
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration

Remarks, National Foreign Policy Conference for
Leaders of Non-Governmental Organizations
Dean Acheson Auditorium, U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC, May 19, 2000

Blue Bar rule

U.S. Department of State and the Coalition for
American Leadership Abroad: Refugee Issues

This is a particular homecoming for me because I see dear friends in the audience and people that I've worked with for a number of years. And I remember when I first started working at State -- well, not first because I've worked here several times, but this last incarnation as Assistant Secretary, it took me about 18 months before I stopped saying "we" meaning NGOs. So I am now not an NGO but I am very much an advocate of the role that NGOs play, particularly in the area that I'm going to speak about today, which is in refugee assistance.

I manage the bureau which we like to say is the human face of our foreign policy. It is the major focal point for assistance, multilateral assistance, and NGO assistance for refugees throughout the world. And, sadly, this is really a growth industry.

The causes of refugee flows are familiar to you all. The places where you find refugees you see in the headlines of every daily newspaper, whether it's Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, Chechnya, Ethiopia, Congo, Angola -- the list is exhaustive. And we've witnessed the end of what I consider the bloodiest century of our current era and unfortunately the forced displacement of people from their homes by conflict and persecution remains one of the most compelling issues of our world today.

The immediate cause of formed migration is massive human rights abuses or violence which erupts because of grave inequities in social benefits of a society, or in warfare that has become increasingly inhumane and targets deliberately civilians in campaigns that have had the most heinous results, whether it's the use of mutilation, rape, ethnic cleansing -- all as new tools of war.

The conflicts around the world have generated at least 13 million refugees, and nearly three times as many people whom we call internally displaced persons have been victims of violence but they haven't crossed an international border. A refugee is somebody who flees an international border. But we were equally concerned about whether they cross a border or whether they are captured and kept inside their home country but are at risk.

The U.S. Government views these people as a special concern not only in terms of our own humanitarian portfolio, but we do everything we can to leverage concern of the whole international community. We do this in three ways. First is in diplomacy, and I believe later speakers will talk more about how we do our multilateral and bilateral diplomacy, particularly on humanitarian efforts. But right now going on around the world are efforts in the Security Council by our Ambassador Dick Holbrooke, by other Assistant Secretaries to try to deal with whatever the emerging issues are or the requirements for peacekeeping or the requirements for negotiations, diplomacy is a very key tool we use.

But the two other tools that I'd like to focus on for refugees are ones that have a very strong involvement on the non-government organization community. The first is in the assistance to refugees. We are the leading contributor to all humanitarian assistance programs; in fact, we pay about 25% of the overall costs of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); AID funds 50% of the emergency food for the World Food Program; we pay about 25% of the International Committee for the Red Cross; and our contributions through NGOs are extensive. My budget alone at the State Department is about the State Department's largest budget, which makes me a little vulnerable sometimes in cost-cutting areas, but I have a $600 million budget hat funds protection and life-sustaining assistance, resettlement, and repatriation of refugees.

This amount of money we hope will be increased this next year, but we -- as all components of the 150 Account -- are subjected to great scrutiny on the Hill and we're all very nervous about whether Congress will enable us to continue at our level of aid.

We work, as I said, through the UNHCR; through the International Organization for Migration (IOM); United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which deals with Palestinian refugees; and the wonderful network of NGOs. We didn't used to do NGO funding as much as we do now. Maybe it's you all sensitized me to the fact that NGOs are quick and creative and can supplement the UN agencies in terms of field presence.

But we've had a very strong partnership in the last several years, and last year out of my budget alone we funded $83 million of specific NGO activities throughout the world. We also worked very hard to coordination with Interaction -- no surprise -- in terms of information-sharing, strategy-development, and standard-setting. And one of the things that Interaction has worked with its European counterparts on is what we call the sphere standards. It is standards for what kind of equitable and basic standards of care are necessary to assist people in disasters and humanitarian interventions.

These standards are universal -- are being developed universally with other NGOs so that we'll know how much water do people need, what kind of shelter do they need, what kind of healthcare assistance do people need, whether they're in Sierra Leone or in Kosovo or Timor, and to train up the volunteers and the staff members of the UN agencies and the NGOs to meet these standards.

I had a very exciting experience on Monday. I was about 150 kilometers from nowhere in Namibia and was at a refugee camp. And I went into one of the tents of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross, which was an implementing partner for the UNHCR for this refugee camp of Angolans that were in Namibia. And they were having a training session on the sphere standards. They didn't know from anything about the sphere standards, and they were brought together and were told about how to train up to be able to provide assistance. And this is the kind of thing that the NGOs are doing all over the world to try to make sure that the people who are actually handing out the assistance and helping the people in need have a common standard of response.

So we worked very closely with the NGOs on that, and I was particularly pleased to see this work in the far reaches of Namibia.

But another major area that we do in refugee assistance in is our admissions program. I know most of you are focused on international issues, but we all have bases in the United States. And one of the things that we do as part of our humanitarian portfolio is to process refugees into the United States. These are people who either have strong family ties that are refugees overseas or are in particularly life-threatening situations, people for whom there is no hope. We have the authority in our immigration law to bring these people into the United States.

Now, we consult with Congress every year about what the level is, and last year alone we brought in 85,000 refugees from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and Europe. Bosnia, mostly from the Bosnian conflicts. This year, we expect to process the same number of people. Now, 85,000 may sound like an awful lot of refugees in the United States, but it's only 8% of the legal immigrants who are allowed to come into our country, so it's not much and we believe that they have made and continue to make a very important contribution to our society.

Now, the way we do our refugee resettlement is that we work with the UNHCR and with NGOs internationally to identify who are the most vulnerable and who we should bring in. And we set certain priorities. This year's priorities are on torture victims; women at risk, particularly Afghan women who can not go back to Afghanistan because of the terrible Taliban policies. We have special vulnerable religious groups in Iran, Iraq, and the Middle East that we bring in; and, of course, we have a large number of residual cases left over from the Bosnian war that we are processing from Germany and from Croatia.

One of the things that we have done recently is to raise the level of admissions from Africa. It was always about 3000 to 4,000, and this past year we've been processing up to 18,000 refugees, so this is great. It sounds like maybe not so much, but we're doing it from 43 different locations so you can imagine the logistics of this.

We rely for the processing of these refugees into communities throughout the United States with ten voluntary resettlement agencies. And these are some of the same agencies that have done refugee resettlement for decades. They are a mixture of faith-based groups, ethnic, and secular organizations dedicated to assisting refugees. Collectively, they have a network of 450 local affiliates which are in virtually every congressional district of the United States, so when they process refugees into communities around the country and help them start their life, they are building with them a real constituency for the refugee program. And we are very pleased about that.

Now, we don't make the voluntary agencies pay the whole bill. The U.S. does a great deal in the first couple of years of assistance and we provide directly to the NGOs $64 million in grants to help them with this assistance.

So as we look at our relationship, at least in the humanitarian sphere with refugees, collectively the NGOs and the U.S. Government, I believe, have done a really remarkable job of helping millions of people around the world. But we have many, many challenges ahead of us. Not only are they on the diplomatic front, which every day we're trying to struggle with, but also how we prepare ourselves to respond to unforeseen crises, whether it's the uprootedness just yesterday of 200,000 people in Eritrea or whether it is the breakdown that's going on now in Sierra Leone and contingency plans for what will happen there.

We have to stay the course together. We have to plan together; we have to communicate together. And this is part of the strength of our program because we do have a continuing close collaboration between the Department and the NGO community. We believe that the NGOs serve as the best implementing partners in the field. They're close to the grassroots; they're close to the people who are in need; and they have special cultural sensitivities so that the assistance that they receive -- that we fund -- we are convinced is the best that is available.

The NGOs are also partners of the UN system, particularly the UNHCR, and they too are looking increasingly to American agencies for assistance as they implement their programs. The field perspective is essential and we could not provide the food, the shelter, the medicines, the healthcare, for these refugees if it were not for the NGOs.

Finally, I think that it's important to thank you for your interest in these fields and for coming today to hear from the State Department and AID on sort of the nature of our relationship, because one of the most important roles of the non-governmental organizations is your role as members of civil society. And how you explain to the American people why we should have global engagement, how you explain to the members of Congress why we need to be connected, are all really essential parts of this partnership we have. The values that you have as NGOs are what we're striving to have at the State Department, but there is a lot of misunderstanding and we do need Congress to understand that what we're doing, we're doing because it's what the American people want to do. And we're desperately looking for you to help us tell the good stories about what's happening in the world.

We value you. We value your perspective to bring hope to the vulnerable people around the world. And I think we should celebrate this partnership and find ways that we can strengthen it. And I hope that in the Q&A you won't just ask me questions but you'll give us ideas, too, on what else we can be doing together because we have a real possibility for expanding not only our assistance but our values around the world, only if we do it in partnership.

So thank you for your attention, and I will be delighted to answer any questions you might have. Thank you.

(Applause.)

QUESTION: The Coalition for American Leadership Abroad (COLEAD) and the other organizations here have been tremendously concerned about the decline in revenue support for the entire 150 Account and particularly in the area that you work so well in. I would appreciate it if you could comment on the extent to which your ability to respond to crisis situations such as the one that we have unfolding right now in the Horn of Africa, but others around the world as well; to what extent are you unable to adequately respond to these desperate situations because of budgetary constraints? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: Well, thank you for that question. One of the problems we have in responding -- and Hattie sort of talked about this a little bit -- is that we have our own infrastructure through the embassies and through the AID missions in many countries around the world, but if we don't have those people funded to be out there, then they cannot go out and do ready assessments and work with donor coordination on the field and to work with NGOs. So what we have in terms of our resources for my bureau doesn't support that infrastructure, but that infrastructure is desperately needing resources.

Now, with regard to the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, as I said, we fund about 25% of the UNHCR. It, too, has to have worldwide availability and accessibility. Our concern is that the UNHCR's bill has gone up to about $1 billion a year; ICRC's bill is about $900 million a year; NGOs have quite a lot other investments. And I do not have those kind of resources to make our 25%, so that is going to hurt us.

The other thing that is a problem for us is that last year we were blessed by congressional responsiveness on Kosovo, and Kosovo gave us a whole lot of extra money, at least in the humanitarian field. I got a quarter of a billion dollars to spend on Kosovo and the Balkans. Unfortunately, that money is not going to be available after September, and yet we all know there will be continuing requirements for Kosovo and the Balkans. And to be able to respond to those, the only source I will have is to take money away from other parts of the world. So I refused to do that last year. I did not take any money away from Africa or Asia to be able to fund Kosovo, but this next year is going to be much more difficult if we are reduced. We asked for $650 million, and last word I had was we might be getting $615 million, which is a substantial cut.

QUESTION: This has to do with a rechanneling of the efforts in the field of refugee relief. There was an article in last summer's Foreign Affairs by Edward Ludvag, and he criticized the role of UNHCR and of certain NGOs in the establishment of permanent refugee camps, which he saw a sort festering sores. He pointed out the Palestinian camps have kept revengist emotion intact and retarded the advancement of peace. He pointed out the Hutun bases, the camps along the Congo border with Rwanda as having become almost Hutu bases for cross-border raids where Tutsis were killed. He pointed out that the past camps along the Thai-Cambodian border served as safe havens for the Khmer Rouge and things like that. And he pointed out that the roles of NGOs in some of these have helped to supply not only legitimate refugees but active combatants that take advantage of these places of refuge.

His prescription is that new rules should be established for the UN refugee relief activities and for certain NGOs to ensure that immediate succor is swiftly followed by repatriation, local absorption, or immigration, ruling out the establishment of these permanent refugee camps.

Is there a good chance that our efforts will be more channeled into the area of resettlement and less in providing resources where these permanent camps can be established?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: That's a very complicated question, and I think that there is much truth in what the article purportedly says. There are rules within the international response community that say you can not place a refugee camp within 50 kilometers of a border, just to avoid that problem of cross-border relief and recuperation for military or any potential diversion of supplies. But it's very hard to enforce it because, you have to understand that the humanitarian community and the NGOs do not have guns. They do not have any weapons; they can not provide security; they can not force militaries to do certain things. The only people that can disarm a refugee in encampment or a military encampment have to have guns.

So we are aware that there are problems of trying to keep refugee sites neutral, and we think the best way to do that is to keep a heavy presence of the UN community and NGOs and to get the host government to provide perimeter security and to keep those camps 50 kilometers from the border.

Now, let me just say that I'm hoping that we're into a new phase here. Obviously, we can not permanently resettle 13 million refugees in the United States, so all we can do is hope and work very hard on the diplomatic resolution of these situations. The Palestinians for 50 years have lived in these refugee camps. It is abysmal. But with the Middle East peace process, we are hoping that conditions will ultimately change and people can go back home.

This past year, we had two events which I never thought I would see in my lifetime, and I've been working in refugee programs for 25 years. We saw the rapid escape of hundreds of thousands of Kosovars and hundreds of thousands of East Timorese, and the repatriation of both groups within a very short period of time. I think this is very exciting. I mean, we were all going crazy because it was a lot of work and it was quite confusing. But the idea of trying to get early repatriation and focus on the rebuilding of them safely back home is everyone's objective, but the politics of the world sometimes prevent our being able to do that.

QUESTION: Unintended consequences sort of run amok. You point out quite correctly that part of the problem is that NGOs that provide this relief are unable to defend themselves against thugs that would take advantage of the very relief provided to rearm and support the people that - - and prolonging the very combat that these NGOs really deplore.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: So what's the option? Just not assist any of these people? Most of these people are upward victims.

QUESTION: If you're doing more harm than good, that might be the correct answer.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: Well, I don't think you can say that.

QUESTION: It prolongs the conflicts, and I think demonstrably so in a number of instances.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: I would challenge you on that.

QUESTION: I the camps along the Congo-Rwanda border have certainly done that.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: Do you know how many people were considered to be Hutu sympathizers on that border? 30,000 people. Do you know how many people were actually in those camps? 990,000 people. They're women, they're children, they're elderly. These people have been victimized by their leaders, they've been victimized by their communities. They are fleeing. Are we supposed to say, "I'm awfully sorry, we are going to starve you to death" when we can help them? I don't think that's what the American people want, and I certainly don't think that's what the NGOs want.

(Applause.)

QUESTION: Perhaps the conflict would be ended sooner and these people could either be repatriated or locally resettled if the -

CHORUS OF VOICES: Sit down.

QUESTION: Steve Rokobee, NIFCA. Secretary Taft, we have a small window of opportunity, I think, in the Croatia-Bosnia-Herzegovina area because of dynamic developments in Croatia to help some of the over 2 million refugees return to their homes in that region. What do you see as key and paramount to the U.S. and your role in working with the UN, NATO, Office of the High Representative (OHR), to really make that happen with the clock ticking in the next 6-9 months as critical to this opportunity?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: Well, I'll answer it in two different ways. First of all, we have had programs to try to encourage people to return back to Bosnia and Croatia ever since the Dayton Peace Accords. It has been painfully slow, painfully slow, because of rules and the wrong people living in the wrong houses and a lot of hatred and a lot of problems.

But we have had programs, put millions of dollars into programs to try to build houses, try to get enough confidence-building for people to go back. This year, there is a huge surge of interest -- the Secretary has been great at pressing this, and now we have people that are going back without any assistance whatsoever.

Now, the two parts of my comment are: number one, people will return home when they think it is time for them to go home and when it is perceived safe to go home, whether or not there are NGOs or the UN that are funding it. Right now, they are going home without funding, but we are trying to help the communities that are absorbing these people. And as a matter of fact, when I finish this session I have to go and sign off on our final $18 million worth of grants to help in the return process.

So we are funding some of that return, but the critical issue here is whether or not people feel confident that they can start a new life, and they'restarting to feel that in Croatia with the new leadership and in Bosnia.. So I think you're right when you say we have time - the next 5-8 months. I think we'll see hundreds of thousands of people going back, and we'll help to the best we can budget it.

QUESTION: I know that there has been a lot of increased violence towards civilians, especially women in places like Bosnia. And I wondered with the kind of trauma that some of them have been through, for example with the Bosnian rape victims, how do you assimilate them back into society after they've gone through that kind of trauma?

Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: Thank you. In each refugee flow we see particular crimes against women, whether they've been raped or tortured or they are just overburdened with new responsibilities with having their husbands killed or whatever. The interventions that seem to work best are not psycho-social-psychiatric counseling. They are giving a woman a sense of some control over her life, something she can do that makes her feel valued again. And that could be some counseling; it could be a micro-credit program where she's got some resources that she can restart a small business; it might be a self-help group that is teaching them how to sew or a new skill. There are infinite varieties of how to help these women, but we find that they have their strength in finding safe and secure places to talk among themselves, which is often not possible, and we provide assistance there; and for NGOs that help them, you know, help their kids again and get started.

We have had in Bosnia special women's initiative which did provide a variety of small income-generating projects -- cows, chickens, sewing projects -- but we now also have similar things that we're doing in Kosovo which have the whole range of education, early education, and similar small programs for these women.

At the end of the day, their lives have been as destroyed and uprooted as their children's lives have been, and it's going to take sometimes years for them to get fully recuperated. But these programs are out there and they're being managed by NGOs.

QUESTION: Hi. You mentioned earlier that you were providing some assistance to the women from Afghanistan to come to the United States. I wondered if you were providing any assistance for the women in Afghanistan to get education and to better the situation in Afghanistan.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: Right, yes. Thank you very much. Although the U.S. Government employees can no longer go into Afghanistan because of the security threats, the NGOs are there. We're funding NGOs to do refugee repatriation programs, to do early childhood education programs, food for widows, bakeries in Kabul, and programs in some of the centers in Afghanistan. But we don't really have a dialogue with the Taliban but we find the NGOs are able to get in and actually manage the programs pretty well.

In addition, we are funding particularly education and healthcare, reproductive healthcare programs for Afghan women in the camps in Pakistan. After the war had ended with Afghanistan, there was an assumption that we could close all the projects in Pakistan and everybody would voluntarily go back to Afghanistan. Well, it didn't quite work that way. But we closed down many of the assistance programs with the UNHCR and the NGOs.

Two and a half years ago, the Secretary went to Pakistan and she saw that there was still a continuing need, so she actually called me. I had only been on the job for one week, and she called me. She said, "Can't you start up these programs again?" And I said, "Yes, ma'am. Of course we can." And we did. And so we've started new programs with a number of agencies. It doesn't reach all of the women in need, but they are getting basic numeracy and literacy skills and some credit schemes in Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan.

But thanks for your interest.

No other questions? Okay, well, thank you very much. This has been great to be with you.

(Applause.)

MR. BLANEY: I have a few housekeeping announcements to make. Having worked, by the way, in the Bureau of Refugees during my active duty days, I want you to know this is one of the toughest jobs in the world And one of the individuals asked the question about resources for those particular jobs. There is nothing that is more difficult because of the lack of resources and the kind of decisions that Julia Taft and the Department of State have to make between asking whether or not they're going to be able to feed and safeguard tens of thousands of refugees in one country and not to do it in the other. The problem that we have and the choices that this Department , AID, Peace Corps, and many other international organizations we fund is that, literally, they're making choices that no society would want to make, because the consequences of the lack of those resources are the life, the very lift, of many, many tens of thousands of people. And having seen that up close is a very difficult process indeed.

I have a few announcements to make. Could I also introduce someone who is, or at least to note someone who, without her help, we would be unable to have this meeting, who has put together an extraordinary effort here. And that's Olive Sampson.

(Applause.)

MS. SAMPSON: Good morning. I wanted to take this very small pause in our program to thank you for your support, welcome you here to the Department, to thank you not only for your support in terms of your presence here today but your support throughout the year, because not only do you support us by coming here to the Department in instances such as this for conferences and briefings, but through your work across the country you help us tremendously. In my office particularly, you have been very helpful to us in the town meetings we've planned around the country. You accept our faxes when we send you our mailings, and I know you share them. And I want to thank you for all of that.

This afternoon, we have a series of workshops, as you can see from the program. You have also, each of you, received a blue workshop sheet from which you should make a selection. We would like to take this pause to collect those programs and ask that you send them to either end of the row. Staff members will come up the rows and collect them from you.

Thank you.

MR. BLANEY: I have some housekeeping information. If you want to take a slight break while I do this, please do so but we'll be ready in a few minutes. But let me just note a couple of things. There are people in the room -- and you will see during the day -- who have yellow name tags on. They are people here to help you from the Department of State. You can ask them questions. They will provide some guidance if you have some questions to them. They have been really wonderful and helpful.

The other thing I want to remind everybody, because of the new security requirements in the Department of State, is that this area which is the conference area that you're in now, which is the Acheson Auditorium, the area that's the delegates lounge over there and when you go upstairs or down here has been closed off. You cannot leave this general area without an escort. Within the area you're going to be fine. So if you can, stay within that area. It would be very much appreciated if you don't have an escort.

I would like to also say that the workshops are very important this afternoon. They will provide all of you the chance to have a dialogue with not only other leaders of the NGO community but with the people who actually work in many of the fields that are outlined here in both the Department of State and AID.

I would like to also say, too, we are going to have a lunch. We have had an overwhelming response, much larger than we thought, for this conference. And for that reason we are going to have a buffet lunch in two different locations. One of them will be upstairs on the eighth floor, and the other will be at the delegates lounge. The staff will guide you as you go out. Have your lunch tickets ready, and they will be happy to guide you to the proper place. Just have them ready at the end of our morning program.

I would like to also note that you can leave your brief cases down here in the Dean Acheson Auditorium during the lunch time. Also, I've been asked by the Department of State to fill out and return your evaluation forms prior to leaving for the day, and give to the staff member as you leave at the registration booth, which is out the 23rd Street entrance. Also, they are requesting that you return - and this is very important -- you return at the time you're leaving the security badges also.

And then, finally, please also -- because the budget of the Department of State is rather tight -- please return your name tag holders so they can be recycled again and used for other wonderful citizens who have to come to this building once more.

And then, finally, one other thought here that I want to give you to you, and that is that if you leave before 4 o'clock, you can leave by the 23rd Street entrance, which is at the very end up here through those doors, and you can leave your badges there at the same time. If you stay beyond that, you stay for the workshops -- and I hope you all will -- you will leave by the C Street entrance, or sometimes called the diplomatic entrance. And that entrance is out this way and facing south towards the mall, and you can go out at that time. Remember again to leave those badges there.

One other thought I wanted to make -- and I didn't mention it earlier on -- and that is that if those people who are interested in keeping up not only what's happening here in Washington and with legislation and funding for foreign affairs but also to learn more from speeches and talks about the issues that we're all concerned about, they can get a great deal of information from the COLEAD website. And I want to give that to you. I'm sure now in this world everyone is kind of attuned to the worldwide web, and our address is www.colead.org. And we have in there information about legislation, we have speeches of the candidates for president on foreign policy, information about programs in the foreign affairs field, connections with all our wonderful member groups, which many of you are members of, information about publications and meetings. So please keep that in mind.

I would like to ask the next speakers and introducer to come on up to the podium.

The foreign policy people are a group that are here are going to be leaving at 3:30 and the buses, I believe, are going out to the 23rd Street entrance for them. I've been asked to make that announcement.

I would like to introduce the person who will introduce our main speaker, and that is Sherry Mueller. Sherry Mueller is the Executive Director of the National Council for International Visitors, I think one of the more dynamic, most wonderful group of people who welcome our foreign guests in this country in a hundred cities around this nation. Sherry has carried out an extraordinary set of programs involving her people in a wide range of programs. In addition to that, she's on my board and is, in fact, the Vice Chair of the Coalition for American Leadership Abroad.

[end of document]

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