June 20, 2012

Kerry Recognizes World Refugee Day

Washington, DC – In recognition of World Refugee Day, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) issued the following statement about America’s important role in helping refugees across the globe:

“Abraham Lincoln once spoke of our nation as the last best hope on earth. On this World Refugee Day—the 11th of its kind and the 61st anniversary of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees—it is fitting that we give careful pause to remember that the responsibility attached to Lincoln's words does not end at our shores.

“Across the world, refugees need our assistance and our support. They look to America's voice and leadership to champion their plight—from the dusty plains of northern Kenya to the mountainous confines of Burma, Nepal and Southwest Asia.

“As we look around the world, there are, sadly, numerous refugee crises. In many cases, refugees exchange one set of dangerous conditions for overcrowded, unsanitary and even violent camps. Instability in Somalia is swelling the ranks of the world’s largest refugee complex in Dadaab, Kenya, home to nearly 500,000 people. In the Sahel, more than 150,000 Malians have fled the conflict to neighboring countries, joining host communities that are already suffering from drought and hunger. To them, daily survival is a gamble. 

“We also know that refugees and displaced populations can be the spark for large-scale violence, and today we face that very threat from the millions displaced from homes across the Middle East. Unspeakable violence in Syria has uprooted an estimated 500,000 people inside the country and driven tens of thousands more to Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. Human security in Iraq continues to be a pressing concern, as our partners support hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries and over one million internally displaced persons.

“Of course, there are glimmers of hope. As Burma slowly and steadily opens its political system, we will look to the government to provide space for humanitarian action to assist those displaced by years of conflict. Have a thought for the Burmese refugee in limbo along the border with Thailand or the young ethnic Rohingya who is denied even the basic identity papers that connote official personhood. They, too, deserve our attention, compassion and support.

“In South Asia, more than 5.7 million Afghan refugees have returned home in the past decade, one of the UN’s most successful voluntary repatriation operations. We must celebrate this achievement, even as we renew efforts to find durable solutions for the nearly three million Afghan refugees scattered across the region. In Colombia, where conflict has displaced an estimated four million people, our partners are helping the government to provide reparations and land restitution to affected individuals and families. We also continue to support the UN Relief and Works Agency in its efforts to provide assistance to millions of Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian territories and throughout the region.

“Above all, we must remember that these aren’t just statistics. The plight of the world’s refugee and displaced populations is a challenge to the humanity of every single one of us. Children who need proper nutrients and access to education, women who are at great risk of falling victim to gender-based violence, individuals with psycho-social needs after witnessing devastation—these realities prick our conscience from half a world away.

“Lincoln used to say that he “tried to pluck a thistle and plant a flower wherever the flower would grow…” Despite our trying times, we should remember all those who have planted the seeds of hope and opportunity where thistles would otherwise grow, from the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration and its partners in the UN to international, faith-based and non-governmental organizations in the field. Let us also recognize the efforts of the organizations that provide guidance and services to give refugees resettled in the United States the opportunity to rebuild their lives here—and thank the communities across the country, including in my state of Massachusetts, who welcome them to their adoptive homes. Their legacy is ours, too. And the next chapter is waiting to be written.”

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