Ambassador Alice G. Wells Prepared remarks, September 18, 2016 Discussion on Refugee Issues

Today the world is facing an unprecedented challenge – the number of forcibly displaced people is the largest ever recorded.  Conflicts raging in places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya and South Sudan have produced 65 million refugees, internally displaced, or people seeking asylum across the globe – including here in Jordan.

That’s more than double the number of people forcibly displaced a decade ago.  While the world’s attention has been focused on the 1 million refugees who busted down Europe’s door in 2015, more than eight in ten who flee across borders actually take refuge in poor or middle income countries, often in countries like Jordan that are striving to provide their own citizens with jobs, education, health care, and clean water, like Jordan.  And those crossing borders are living in exile longer.  The number of refugees voluntarily returning home has dropped to a 30-year low.  It now stands at well below one percent of the worldwide refugee population.

The U.S. Government is committed to addressing these challenges in partnership with both refugees and their host communities.

Since our very founding the United States has offered shelter to refugees fleeing the world’s most dangerous and desperate situations.  In 1948, the United States Congress enacted the first U.S. refugee legislation to admit hundreds of thousands of Europeans displaced during World War II.   Subsequent laws provided for admission of persons fleeing Communism, largely from China, Hungary, Korea, Poland and Yugoslavia, and in the 1960s, Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro’s regime.  And in the 1970s and 80s, the United States opened its doors to those fleeing Vietnam and the former Soviet Union.  Since 1975, the United States admitted more than 3 million refugees from more than 70 countries.

This year we expanded our own resettlement program to admit 85,000 refugees from around the world, up from the almost 70,000 that we’ve resettled in each of the last three years.   And next year, we have committed to increasing that number further – to 110,000.  This is on top of the roughly 450,000 – 550,000 immigrant we welcome to the United States annually.

We believe strongly that given the right opportunities, refugees and immigrants alike can make our country stronger.  President Obama recently said: “The ordeals refugees survive and the aspirations they hold resonate with us as Americans.  [The United States] was built by people who fled oppression and war, leapt at opportunity, and worked day and night to remake themselves in this new land.”

But our commitment to resettling refugees to the United States is only half our story.  Since the establishment of the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol, the United States has also been the leading contributor of humanitarian assistance to refugees and conflict victims around the world.  We contribute more than any other nation to humanitarian operations around the world.  Last year, U.S. humanitarian assistance exceeded $6 billion and provided life-saving assistance to millions of people worldwide.

But while our, and other donors’, humanitarian funding has soared in recent years, it has not kept pace with the unprecedented needs; last year, UN humanitarian appeals were only half funded.  The size of the challenge has stretched traditional aid systems to the breaking point.  And as Jordan certainly knows, this has left host communities overwhelmed and forced governments like Jordan’s to redirect their limited resources to bridge the funding gap.

Recognizing that the world is facing a global humanitarian crisis with deeply destabilizing consequences, President Obama is convening the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees on September 20 on the margins of the UN General Assembly.  He has invited His Majesty King Abdullah II to cohost the event along with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, Ethiopean Prime Minister Hailemariam, German Chancellor Merkel, Mexican President Peña Nieto, Swedish Prime Minister Löfven and UN Secretary General Ban.

These countries were invited, because they are making their own new and significant contributions to address the global humanitarian crisis and are helping to rally broader international response.

The goal of the President’s summit is to expand the humanitarian safety net and create more long-term, durable opportunities for refugees, recognizing the protracted nature of the majority in refugee situations.  We are encouraging all countries to join us in the creation and support of a Global Compact on Responsibility-Sharing for refugees.

President Obama hopes to achieve three results at the Summit:

  • One – to obtain commitments from participating countries to make new and significant contributions to humanitarian financing;
  • Two – to increase the numbers of refugees resettled to these countries; and
  • Three – for countries hosting refugees to make new commitments to refugee self-reliance– with a specific focus on greater access to lawful employment and education.

First, with regard to new and significant contributions to humanitarian financing, the Summit aims to achieve:

  • broader and deeper commitment to funding UN humanitarian appeals by generating a 30 percent increase in financing for global humanitarian appeals, from $10 billion in 2015 to $13 billion this year.
    • This will require commitments from both traditional donors and new donors who can be counted on to make regular contributions.

Second, to increase the number of refugees resettled worldwide, the Summit seeks to :

  • double the number of such slots available to refugees by:
    • increasing the number of refugees we admit to the United States,
    • encouraging traditional resettlement countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and Nordic countries to also consider accepting more refugees, and
    • by seeking to expand the number of countries that accept significant numbers of refugees.

Third, the Summit will encourage refugee host countries to facilitate access to education and legal employment.

  • Through these policy changes, we aim to increase:
    • the number of refugees worldwide in school by one million, and
    • the number of refugees granted the legal right to work by one million.
  • To reach these goals, we are urging refugee hosting nations to strengthen their refugee policies and practices, while urging the international community to invest differently in response to protracted displacement.

President Obama invited Jordan to be one of the cohosts, because under the guidance of His Majesty King Abdulla, Jordan has shown remarkable leadership, political courage, and forward thinking in addressing the global refugee crisis.

The Jordan Compact announced in London in February and the additional support pledged to Jordan’s efforts is remarkable evidence of the country’s commitment to take action itself, which can also mobilize other nations to support its strategy.

In the last year, Jordan has issued nearly 28,000 work permits to Syrian refugees who are working in sectors that do not compete with Jordanian workers, and pledged to enroll 50,000 additional Syrian refugee children in its public schools in addition to developing a catch-up program for another 25,000 students who are ineligible to attend normal classes because they have been out of school too long.

Jordan deserves our collective gratitude and recognition. And we are proud to support Jordan’s commitment to providing productive futures for refugees – both in the short-term to harness their skills and labor to build the Jordanian economy; and in the long-term, when a generation of Syrians who learned and worked in Jordan can return to Syria and use those skills to rebuild their country.  These steps are another example of the generosity of Jordanians towards their neighbors in the region.

But we are also aware of the security and humanitarian challenges Jordan faces in determining how to respond to an extremely complex situation on its border at Rukban and Hadalat, where a disparate mix of Syrians have congregated, including legitimate asylum seekers, those wanting to remain in Syria but seeking a safe haven from aerial bombardment, traffickers, smugglers, armed groups, and as Jordan knows well – terrorists.  In the days, weeks, and months to come, we will work with Jordan and the international community to explore the best options to address Jordan’s security requirements and the humanitarian plight of these vulnerable Syrians.

Refugee-hosting countries should not have to suffer for doing the right thing.  For the hundreds of thousands of refugees already living in Jordan, we continue to provide support both for those living inside the refugee camps as well as those living in host communities.

The U.S. government has provided nearly $795 million in humanitarian assistance for Syrians inside Jordan since the start of the crisis.  We are also providing historic levels of bilateral assistance to Jordan, over $1.6 billion in 2016, with $420 million of that going to support for communities hosting refugees.  Our funding provides cash assistance to the most vulnerable refugees to meet their basic needs, including maternal and child health care.  It is also expanding classrooms and hospitals and improving water and sanitation infrastructure in communities hardest hit by the refugee crisis, benefitting Syrians and Jordanians alike.

As I mentioned earlier, we are committed to resettling refugees to the United States.  This includes refugees currently living in Jordan.  In the last year alone, our Embassy resettled more than 11,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees in the region to the United State, nearly 80 percent from Jordan.  I had the honor to see off the 10,000th refugee on August 28.

And next year, we will aim to significantly increase the number of Syrian refugees resettled to the United States from the region, most of whom will still come from Jordan.  This is possible in large part thanks to the Government of Jordan’s support which allowed us to temporarily use its facilities to scale up our resettlement operations.

The U.S. Government has also been a major donor to help Syrians who wish to remain in Syria, where a third of the population is internally displaced, even when it means living under intense and devastating violence.  To address the food, health, and water needs of this population so it does not need to flee to neighboring countries just to survive, the United States has provided $115 million to support activities cross-border from Jordan.  Our essential services activities help communities restore water and electricity, repair schools and hospitals, and better manage resources that are often scarce and sporadic.  Since 2014, our essential services program helped over 800,000 Syrians have more reliable power, better access to water, get back to school, and start engaging in basic livelihood activities.

Since 2013, USAID has provided more than $40 million to transfer and distribute more than 68,000 metric tons of flour and yeast to over 50 bakeries in southern Syria.  This has provided daily bread for 300,000 people in 130 communities in Dara and Quinetra.

The U.S. Government has also prioritized provision of health care to the populations residing in Syria, who have seen their health care system deteriorate over five years of war.  In 2015 and 2016, our assistance has supported health care for approximately 3.8 million Syrians including provision of medicine and medical supplies, support to keep hospitals and clinics running, and for the doctors and nurses that provide critical medical care amidst the ongoing conflict.

Finally, I would like to mention our support the UNRWA.  As with other UN relief agencies, the United States is the largest bilateral donor to UNRWA, providing more than $316 million thus far for UNRWA’s 2016 needs.  Yet, our support is not enough; UNRWA is currently facing a funding shortfall that requires a multi-donor effort to address.  We will continue to work with UNRWA as well as other host and donor governments to find a solution that makes sure UNRWA secures the funding it needs.

In closing, I would like to thank Jordan for its generosity and assure you that the United States remains committed to continuing our support to host communities and refugees both here in Jordan and around the world.

Thank you again for your time today.   I look forward to a lively discussion with you on this topic.