World Refugee Day 2009
Secretary of State
On June 20, the United States will join the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the international community in marking World Refugee Day. Secretary Clinton was scheduled to speak at a ceremony at National Geographic headquarters on June 18 to salute the fortitude of the world’s refugees and internally displaced persons. Unfortunately, she was unable to attend the event because of an injury. This is an abridged version of her prepared remarks.
Around the world today, millions of people endure war, genocide, famine and natural disasters. Often, they are forced to flee in search of safety, seeking temporary shelter until they can return home and rebuild their lives. But for many refugees and other displaced people, the homes they loved are gone forever.
The crowded camps where refugees live are designed to be temporary, but many of the world’s displaced people become permanent residents. Children are born there; parents die there; people fall in love, marry—even divorce there. Outside the camps, the world seeks a solution to their plight, a way to send them home safely or help them find new homes in new lands. Inside the camps, the refugees wait and hope.
The 34 million refugees and internally displaced persons are some of the world’s most vulnerable people. They are also some of the world’s toughest people. On World Refugee Day, we remember not only what they have survived but the strength and spirit with which they’ve survived it. And we pledge to stand with them and help them build safe and fulfilling lives—not on the outskirts of society, but in the heart of it.
The United States is committed to supporting refugees and displaced people worldwide. We are proud to support the heroic efforts of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, the Red Cross, the International Organization of Migration, and many other non-governmental organizations that work on behalf of refugees worldwide, often in difficult and dangerous circumstances. Last year, we gave more than $1.4 billion to support this work, making us the world’s largest donor for refugee relief. And we’re honored to welcome the many refugees who have resettled in our nation; since 1975, nearly 3 million refugees have made new homes in the United States, more than any other nation in the world.
We stand with refugees because their struggle represents a humanitarian emergency. Furthermore, their fates have broad repercussions for their families, their countrymen, and all people everywhere.
The plight of refugees has an impact on regional and global security; the threats that cause people to flee their homes en masse are dangers to the world at large. Their plight impacts economic development; most refugees have no means to support their families or contribute to their nations’ prosperity. Their plight impacts health and education; disease is rampant in many camps, while educational resources for refugee children are limited. By virtually every measure of social progress, refugees are left behind—and their exclusion diminishes progress for us all.
Our support for refugees is a crucial piece of a larger foreign policy vision. We are committed to pursuing peace and prosperity in every corner—not only in the marble halls of governments, but also in the rural villages and distant cities where people strive to live, work, learn, raise families, contribute to their communities, and grow old with dignity. These are universal dreams that we seek to make a reality for more of the world’s people.
In the coming months, we will continue our efforts to end urgent refugee crises, such as those in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Chad, the Central African Republic, and Darfur. We are encouraged by the progress being made to resolve long-standing refugee situations in Liberia, South Sudan, Burundi and Bhutan. And we call upon the entire global community to strengthen our efforts to ensure that refugees have access to the resources and protections they need to survive.
Supporting refugees is not only the purview of governments and NGOs. It’s a job for all of us. Last month, the Obama Administration announced more than $100 million in aid to support the waves of refugees fleeing the fighting with the Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. At the same time, we created a new way for all citizens to help. By texting the word “Swat” to the number 20222 on your cell phones, you can make a $5 donation to UNHCR to support refugees. It’s an easy way to make a real difference in their lives.
On this World Refugee Day, I urge all of us to seek ways large and small to support the millions of people around the world who hold the same dreams we do—whose strength and courage are unsurpassed—but who have been dislocated by crises beyond their control and are now hoping that the world will remember them and continue to fight on their behalf for a better future.