The Road Ahead: Meeting An Unprecedented Migrant Challenge

group of people near a puddle
Anne C. Richard, center, is escorted during her visit to a temporary shelter for Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants in Kuala Cangkoi, Aceh province, Indonesia, June 2, 2015 (AP Photo)

By Anne C. Richard, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) 

Throughout 2015, refugee and migration issues dominated headlines. A record number of people — some 60 million — are now forcibly displaced. Almost a million refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean. When a photo hit the front pages of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on the shore in Turkey, the heart-wrenching image moved people around the world to help.

The past year we witnessed millions of people on the move, not only through Europe, but fleeing war in Yemen, political killings in Burundi, terrorist attacks in Nigeria, as well as other outbreaks of violence and persecution.

Migrants and refugees from Bangladesh and Myanmar were adrift on the high seas, abandoned without food and water. Countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Chad, Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Kenya have taken in successive waves of refugees from different countries. My colleagues and I in the State Department’s Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) bureau cannot recall another time as challenging.

We continue to strive to protect and get aid to people who need it, whether that is in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Latin America or, as in recent days, Europe.  Refugees have always been part of our nation’s economic and cultural vitality, and we aim to admit more refugees to the United States and to help other countries do the same.

Looking back, we are grateful to all who have supported our mission and work, including members of Congress and colleagues across the United States Government, including officials at the highest levels of the Administration. We are pleased to work with a long list of the best international organizations, non-governmental organizations and faith-based groups, think tanks, foreign diplomats, and, increasingly, private sector leaders.

In addition to our long-standing partnerships with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), we have developed and strengthened our relationships with other international organizations For example, we are partnering with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to support refugee education and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to provide maternal and reproductive health care in crisis settings.

The coming year will bring a series of multilateral meetings to address the current global crises — from a fourth pledging conference for aid to Syria in February to the World Humanitarian Summit in May to a U.S.-hosted high level summit at the UN in September. There, President Obama will challenge leaders from around the world to boost humanitarian funding and create many more opportunities for those in exile to, work, educate their children, and rebuild their lives.

Some of the good news that came in 2015 — historic election outcomes in Nigeria and Burma, peace deals in Colombia and Mali, and an agreement to restore diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba — may pave the way for refugees to return home while giving all those working in humanitarian assistance the hope that sustains us. Without peace, all the goodwill and humanitarian aid in the world cannot end displacement and suffering. Where violence and dislocation continue and innocent civilians suffer, we will continue to do everything in our power to help.