By Jane Morse
The United States has a long history of aiding as well as taking in the world’s refugees, says Secretary of State John Kerry.
At a special event at the State Department marking World Refugee Day, Kerry noted that the earliest refugees started coming to America in the 17th century — Puritans who fled religious persecution in England.
Today, the United States is the largest recipient country for those fleeing violence, persecution, famine and drought. More than 58,000 refugees from 66 countries were resettled to the United States in fiscal year 2012 alone, and nearly 70,000 refugees are expected to arrive in the United States in the coming fiscal year.
In addition, the United States provides more aid to the UNHCR — the United Nations Refugee Agency, the office responsible for aiding the world’s refugees — than any other country, and more than the next six countries combined, Kerry said.
“This funding provides clean water, provides shelter, provides medicine to families around the globe,” Kerry said. “This funding will advance our efforts on behalf of those who simply cannot defend themselves, including the elderly and the disabled. It will help to continue all of the programs to protect women and girls from abuse and exploitation and to aid the victims of gender-based violence. And we make this investment because it makes a real difference in the lives of fellow human beings.”
Kerry also announced that the United States is nearly doubling its contributions this year to the UNHCR. “We are giving to the High Commission on Refugees a $415 million commitment that brings our 2013 total to $890 million,” the secretary said.
The presence of refugees in the United States, Kerry said, “makes our country more diverse, our culture richer and our national character stronger.” Kerry noted that the families of former U.S. Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright came to the United States to escape Hitler and Stalin, and a number of State Department Foreign Service officers serving today were once refugees.
In light of the many refugees who have built fruitful lives in the United States—- contributing to business, science, technology, and literature — “it is worth all of us standing up for the world’s most vulnerable, fighting on behalf of refugees, people who are determined to work hard, to give back, to rebuild their lives,” Kerry said.
World Refugee Day, observed each year on June 20, seeks to raise public awareness to the plight of refugees everywhere. This commemorative day was established in 2000 by the United Nations General Assembly.