1:30 P.M. EDT
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Assistant Secretary Richard was unable to make it, but we do have with us the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration – long title – Mr. Simon Henshaw. I’ll give you a little bit of information about Assistant Secretary – Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Henshaw. He joined the Department in 1985. He’s a career Foreign Service officer. He was most recently assigned as the director of the Office of Andean Affairs in our Western Hemisphere Bureau. He was also the Deputy Chief of Mission at Embassy – please say that name.
MR. HENSHAW: Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
MODERATOR: Thank you. (Laughter.) He was the consul general in Brasilia, where we oversaw (inaudible). He was also posted in Saint Petersburg, San Salvador, Abidjan, and Manila. He attended the National War College. I was in the military, so I found that interesting. And he is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
So he’s going to talk to us today about what the State Department is doing in terms of resettling people all over the world in honor of World Refugee Day. We just really want to highlight our efforts going forward. Oh, please. You can have a seat right here. And with that, I will turn it over.
MR. HENSHAW: Well, thank you for all being here today. I have a short statement which I’ll make and then open up to questions. I’ve been on the job a month, so I have that much depth, so I brought my colleague Kelly Gauger along here to help me with any questions if – in case I don’t have the answers to do them. I have a bit of a cold, so please forgive me if I seem not incredibly animated. I’m doing the best I can.
Throughout our history, the United States has been called on to protect and assist refugees who flee violence and persecution. Each year on June 20th, tomorrow, we draw the public’s attention to and honor the millions of people worldwide who have been forced to leave their homes and become refugees.
This year, the international community is facing an unprecedented number of refugee crises. In the last year, we’ve witnessed major outflows of refugees from Syria, Mali, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Devastating overseas emergencies are pushing more and more refugees from their homes, and the United States plays a leading role in responding to these emergencies.
Our overall approach to responding to these crises is to work multilaterally with international organizations – with international organization partners, such as the UN Refugee Agency, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the International Organization for Migration.
We focus on protection and finding safe places for refugees to restart their lives and burden sharing with host governments as well as other donor governments. Generally, there are three durable solutions for refugees, and the United States is active in all three. The first and most preferable option is returning home in safety and dignity when circumstances permit. The second is to integrate into the country where they have found asylum. However, for some refugees, neither of these two options are possible, at least not in the near to medium term. That brings us to the third option, where the United States, along with 26 other resettlement countries, offers permanent resettlement to a number of such refugees each year.
As you all know, the United States is a nation of immigrants and refugees. Accepting refugees is intrinsic to our national values, and we are proud to play a leading role in the international effort to find new homes for those who cannot go back to their homes because they have been persecuted or fear persecution based on one of the five protected grounds, which are race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.
The United States is by far the largest resettlement country, and most year resettles more refugees than the other 26 countries combined. Since 1975, we have welcomed more than 3 million refugees to this country. This year, we will admit close to 70,000 refugees from nearly 70 countries and resettle them in all 50 states and the District of Colombia.
Given that there are currently about 15 million refugees in the world, you can see that resettlement is available to only a small percentage of them every year. We primarily work with UNHCR on resettlement, and each year we accept referrals for tens of thousands of individuals that UNHCR has determined are in need of resettlement. Once UNHCR has referred a case, we work with the Department of Homeland Security to determine whether the individual or family is a refugee according to the U.S. law and is admissible, which involves and in-depth, in-person interview, security checks, and a medical exam.
Aside from refugees who are referred by UNHCR, we also have a few direct application programs, such as for U.S-affiliated Iraqis. That programs allows Iraqis, including those who haven’t yet fled Iraq who feel under threat based on their employment with the U.S. Government or military or U.S.-based contractor, NGO, or media organization to apply directly for consideration. We’ve admitted more than 86,000 Iraqi refugees to the United States since 2007.
Once we’ve accepted a refugee for resettlement, we work with nine domestic resettlement agencies to assist the refugees in the first three months after arrival. The U.S. resettlement program is an excellent example of a strong public-private partnership. The resettlement agencies, partially with our funding and partially with private funding, do everything from meeting the refugees at the airport, finding them housing, supplying them with furniture, household goods and clothing, helping them to enroll their kids in school, and helping them enroll for government benefits.
In general, our resettlement program focuses on early employment and self-sufficiency. Most refugees are eligible for about eight months of government assistance, cash and medical assistance, and are expected to be employed at the end of that period. The Office of Refugee Resettlement at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services funds these benefits and also funds other programs that assist refugees beyond the initial three months. These programs range from ESL, English as a Second Language, to employment readiness, to micro-lending, as well as extended case management for cases that need additional assistance.
Today, and especially the day before World Refugee Day, we recognize the trials and fears of many refugees. We salute their courage, perseverance, and hard work. We celebrate the success of the many refugees who have built new lives in the United States and in other countries. We express appreciation to countries that keep their borders open to refugees. As Americans, we pledge our continued help to refugees everywhere. Their journeys begin in some of the worst situations imaginable, but their determination to survive and thrive inspires us throughout the year. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Okay. We’re going to open it up to questions now. We’re going to have a transcript today, so if you’re going to ask a question please state your name and who you’re affiliated, so we can have that for the recording. Any questions?
MR. HENSHAW: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: I’ll start from your – thank you very much for your presentation. I’ll start from your last segment on Iraq. You said that 86,000 have been accepted already United States. How many are still there in the pipeline, and what is the status of Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan?
MR. HENSHAW: Okay. Two questions. Let’s do the first one, pipeline first. Do you know what we have in the pipeline?
MS. GAUGER: I don’t have an exact number for you, but we still have tens of thousands of Iraqis not only inside Iraq itself but in countries in the region that are still under consideration. Either they have already been interviewed by the Department of Homeland Security and they’re just pending out-processing, or they're still awaiting DHS adjudication. But the number is – it’s tens of thousands.
QUESTION: Tens of thousands. That runs between 10,000 and 100,000.
MS. GAUGER: Yes. (Laughter.) We can get you a closer answer, but I would say it’s probably in the neighborhood of – it depends on how you determine it. I mean, some people determine pending meaning being before DHS adjudication, and once they’ve been adjudicated, it’s just they’re on their way. But the whole universe, I’d have to get you a guess. I think it’s probably between 30- and 40,000.
QUESTION: So I appreciate it if you’d give me the exact number.
MS. GAUGER: Okay. I will.
MODERATOR: Any other questions?
MR. HENSHAW: Yeah. And I think we can safely add that it’s our intention to continue – the Administration’s intention to continue to do this.
MS. GAUGER: Yeah. No. We’re still accepting applications both for the direct access program for U.S.-affiliated Iraqis, and we’re still accepting referrals from UNHCR.
QUESTION: For those who are in Iraq and outside Iraq?
MS. GAUGER: Yes. Yes.
MR. HENSHAW: And your second question?
QUESTION: I was kind of interested about the Iraqis in Syria and Jordan, especially in Syria, about those who are waiting for – to be processed either here, to the United States, or to one of the 26 countries. What’s their status?
MR. HENSHAW: Go ahead. Yeah.
MS. GAUGER: Yeah. I have more exact numbers on that. So we have not been able to get Department of Homeland Security adjudicators into Syria since March of 2011. So at that point in time we had 16,000 people awaiting U.S. resettlement.
QUESTION: Back then?
MS. GAUGER: Back then on March 2011. About half had not yet been adjudicated by DHS. The other half had been adjudicated and approved. So they were pending security checks, medical checks, that sort of thing. At this point in time we only have a couple of thousand post-DHS cases, so DHS approved cases who are pending out-processing, so still awaiting security checks. The number is about 2,000. On the 8,000 who had not yet seen DHS, that’s a different story, because our law requires an in-person adjudication with the Department of Homeland Security. So there have been a couple things for that, for those cases.
What we have said – we’ve made it very clear in the region – and we’ve done this through UNHCR, through the International Organization for Migration, through NGOs – if you were an Iraqi in Syria and you did not make it to DHS because we couldn’t get there after March 2011 and you depart and go to one of the neighboring countries where we’re doing processing – so primarily Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, but also back to Iraq itself, so technically you’re no longer a refugee, you’re back in Iraq – we will continue the processing of your case. So we’re processing several thousand people that way. I think that at this point we’re at about 2,000 people that we’re processing in that manner. We have also worked with some of our other resettlement country partners, primarily Australia and Canada, to have some of the cases that have been referred to us re-referred to them because their law does not require an in-country adjudication. They can do it by video conference of sometimes they can accept cases based just on a paper referral. So that’s three primary ways. You leave the country, we will still pick up your processing as long as you’re still in the region where we’re doing processing – cases referred to Australia, cases referred to Canada. And then there are still some cases that we don’t have a solution for right now.
MODERATOR: Do you have a question as well?
QUESTION: Yes. I’m with New Tang Dynasty TV. My question is: How about the situation in China? How many people applied for the refugee status last year? And could you have a breakdown of the number?
MS. GAUGER: We resettle very few Chinese refugees. And I think the other thing, just to dispel the notion, we don’t accept applications for resettlement accept for in a couple of special programs such as the program for U.S.-affiliated Iraqis. In general, we get cases referred to us for our consideration. So UNHCR refers a handful of Chinese refugees to us. I could just give you a number of – just for an example, last year – fiscal year ’12, we admitted 45 Chinese refugees. So it’s very small.
QUESTION: Okay. But what had they – these people are because of the persecution – religious persecution, political persecution? Do you have a –
MS. GAUGER: I couldn’t comment on kind of a – I couldn’t give you a specific breakdown, but I think a number of them are probably Falun Gong practitioners who have been referred to us. So based on – I would guess that the majority are referred based on religion and political opinion.
MODERATOR: Do you have another question?
QUESTION: Yeah. Back to Syria. There was a story I believe two weeks ago about Palestinian refugees in Syria and the United States is looking into resettling them somewhere and some of the reports said that there might be some way to resettle them or to accept them here as refugees in the States. Do you have anything to comment on that?
MR. HENSHAW: I didn’t see that story. Did you?
MS. GAUGER: No. We haven’t seen that story, and if that was reported, that’s erroneous. We don’t currently have plans to resettle Palestinians from Syria. Which is not to say that we wouldn’t, but there are no active discussions going on about resettling Palestinians from Syria.
MS. GAUGER: In general I can tell you that the United States doesn’t resettle Palestinian refugees, in general, because it’s U.S. policy that the status of Palestinian refugees will be decided as part of the final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. So we don’t want to get in the middle of that by resettling Palestinian refugees. Several years ago we resettled about 1,000 Palestinian Iraqis, but that’s a little bit different than the Palestinians whose fate will be decided by any final status agreement. There – we’re aware that there are Palestinian Syrians who are in need of international protection, and we’re not ruling out that we would resettle some, but that’s not something --
QUESTION: Have there been any discussions with any of your embassies in Lebanon or Jordan or in Israel about the situation in Iraq?
MS. GAUGER: About the situation? Sure.
QUESTION: About the situation of Palestinian refugees who --
MR. HENSHAW: In Syria?
QUESTION: Yeah, who flee in Syria to --
MR. HENSHAW: We’re well aware of the plight of the Palestinian refugees in Syria and working with international organizations to do what we can to assist them. But we have not entered into conversations about resettlement in the United States.
QUESTION: Okay. Any specific discussion with those organizations, international organization to – as to help them in Lebanon or in Israel or --
MR. HENSHAW: It’s all along with what we’re doing in the region now. We have a – since March 2011 we’ve committed $800 million to the region, and it’s to support refugees with providing shelter – through international organizations, shelter, food, assistance both inside and outside Syria.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
MODERATOR: Did you have a question?
QUESTION: Yes. Could you –
MODERATOR: Can you say your organization?
QUESTION: Oh, I – Yasmine El-Sabawi. I’m with the Kuwait News Agency. Could you speak a little more to exactly how you divvy up sort of resettlement between yourselves, Canada, Australia, and do they come through the United States and then get resettled or just go (inaudible)?
MR. HENSHAW: We work through UNHCR, and they don’t go through the United States. Maybe you want to get into the details, but the refugees that we work with are the refugees that we accept to bring to the United States based on UNHCR referrals with the exception of the special program that Kelly mentioned. And the same – UNHCR works the same way with the other 25 countries.
MS. GAUGER: Yeah. What can I add to that?
QUESTION: So just in terms of how do you decide who goes where ultimately.
MS. GAUGER: Right. Right. Well, so it’s not our decision; it’s UNHCR’s. So every year UNHCR publishes a document about worldwide resettlement needs. And currently of the 15 million refugees in the world, the last time they published this document, they estimated that there are about 800,000 refugees in the world in need of resettlement. Now UNHCR recognizes that they’re not going to find 800,000 spots for resettlement in one year. That’s kind of a multi-year needs assessment.
Simon mentioned that we resettle more refugees than all other countries combined, so UNHCR kind of goes into every year knowing about how many each country will take, and so they make that determination themselves. I mean, in general, the U.S. accepts about half of all UNHCR referrals worldwide. The second-largest country is Australia. So if we’re admitting about 70,000 refugees this year, Australia will admit about 12,000. Canada’s somewhere between – somewhere around 10,000. So between the three of us, we do about more than 90 percent of the resettlement in the world. The other 23 resettlement countries have pretty small numbers. It’s mostly in the hundreds.
So, I mean, obviously, when we accept half, we’re a bit of a default country because we get so many. Of course, family ties would come into play, and so if UNHCR has a refugee in front of them and they’ve got family ties in any one of the countries, that would always be the first choice. Certain countries can do resettlement faster than others. Although we are large, we’re relatively slow and deliberative. We have a lot of security checks and medical checks that’s an in-person adjudication requirement. So we tend to take quite a bit longer to review a case than other countries. So if UNHCR has a case that’s urgently in need of protection, because maybe they fled across an international border but maybe the security forces of that country have followed them into that – maybe a Syrian in Lebanon – and they need to get them out quickly, they’ll tend to refer them to one of the countries that can do resettlement quickly, like Sweden, Norway, Denmark. A lot of these countries do very cursory security checks, if at all, and can accept a case based on just a paper application.
MODERATOR: Any further questions?
QUESTION: Yeah. I’m sorry I’m pounding you for so many questions.
MR. HENSHAW: That’s all right.
QUESTION: About the Syrian refugees, have there been any decision how many to accept here in the States, to resettle in the States or the other 26 countries?
MR. HENSHAW: There hasn’t been any decision made. What UNHCR is talking about right now is 2,000 refugees total being resettled.
MS. GAUGER: This year.
MR. HENSHAW: This year, thank you. This year.
MR. HENSHAW: No, will be settled this year.
QUESTION: Will be settled, okay.
MR. HENSHAW: And as Kelly said, generally, we take half the number. We’re not going to commit to a certain number, but you can assume that it will fit normal patterns if we have refugee resettlement.
MS. GAUGER: I think maybe the other thing I’d just add is that some people have been confused because there’s also been a report that UNHCR is looking to resettle 10,000 people. The 10,000 are the number for whom they’re looking for temporary protection, mostly in Europe. So you may have heard that the Government of Germany has come forward to offer 5,000 slots. So the UN is still looking for 5,000 other temporary slots, and temporary meaning two years at a time, two to four years. A lot of countries in Europe have these temporary asylum schemes where they’ll take someone that’s under a temporary status that’s renewable every two years.
QUESTION: Right, right.
MS. GAUGER: So that’s the 10,000. We don’t – we tend not to do – although we have something called temporary protected status. That’s for people who are already in the country. We don’t tend to resettle people, bring them to our country for temporary status.
QUESTION: Right, right.
MS. GAUGER: So we would be part of the 2,000 that they’re looking for in 2013.
QUESTION: To follow up further on this, the very volatile and unsettled nature of what’s happening in Syria, how does that factor into the decision-making process? I mean, in Pollyanna’s world, everybody will lay down their guns next week and everybody can go home. So with things so unsettled, how is it that the U.S. process makes a decision now is the time, these people have been out of their homes X number of days or years or months, so now they’re – we’re going to consider resettlement processes. Where is the trigger in there on --
MR. HENSHAW: I think we’re just following the UNHCR’s lead on that, and that they’re starting to talk about there being a number of refugees that need to be permanently resettled.
QUESTION: And so that 2,000 that you mentioned is the number that they specified for this year?
MR. HENSHAW: Right.
QUESTION: And so that compares to – isn’t it – how many are they talking about now, 1.6 million?
MR. HENSHAW: Right.
QUESTION: Do you want to compare those two stats at all?
MR. HENSHAW: I think if you compare, really, any group of refugees with a number of resettlements, you’ll see a similar comparison. And I pointed that out in my remarks, that only a very small amount of refugees are resettled.
QUESTION: Is your remarks going to be available for us?
MR. HENSHAW: Yeah, I can leave it, right?
MS. GAUGER: Well, I think he said it’s being recorded, right?
MR. HENSHAW: Right.
MODERATOR: We’re going to do a transcript, so it will come out with the transcripts.
MR. HENSHAW: Yeah.
MODERATOR: The transcript should be ready tomorrow, at the latest tomorrow.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. Thanks.
MODERATOR: Is that okay for you?
MR. HENSHAW: That’s great.
MODERATOR: Any further questions?
QUESTION: Do you want to make any further comment about what the status of UN consideration of humanitarian needs may be given the magnitude and the volatility of the ongoing Syrian situation? How do we – are we still in a kind of hair-trigger response mode? Is there more aid that is – very well could be flowing? Or where --
MR. HENSHAW: Yeah. I’m not going to predict future aid, but since March 2011, we committed over $800 million. I don't know this for a fact, but I’m sure that’s more than half of the aid that’s been contributed to the region for refugees.
QUESTION: Any breakdown of the amount? Jordan, for example, how much?
MR. HENSHAW: Do we have that?
MS. GAUGER: I have a fact sheet that came out yesterday.
MR. HENSHAW: Yeah, I saw a fact sheet too.
MS. GAUGER: Of course, the White House – it’s a White House fact sheet and it says Jordan has gotten $45 million, I think.
MR. HENSHAW: Yeah, Jordan over $45 million, Iraq over $24 million, Turkey over $22 million, Lebanon over $72 million, probably --
MS. GAUGER: I think it’s on the fact sheet.
MR. HENSHAW: Yeah, it’s – I’m looking at the same fact sheet, yeah.
MS. GAUGER: I might just say something – add something about – considering the volatility in relation to resettlement processes. I mean, we’re not – we won’t be resettling Syrians directly out of Syria. We’ll be resettling (inaudible) countries, probably primarily Lebanon and Jordan.
MS. GAUGER: Well, I mean, under international definition in general, a refugee is someone who has fled his or her country of origin. U.S. law actually allows us to consider people who are still in their country of origin, but we wouldn’t even try to do that in Syria. So in Lebanon and Jordan, because of the very large Iraqi resettlement program that we’ve had over the last five years, we have organizations and kind of infrastructure set up in a lot of the neighboring countries. We work with NGOs, with international organizations, with our embassies. So we have the capacity in those countries. And so far, in Beirut and Amman, it’s stable enough to do processing there.
QUESTION: But again, referring back to what you said, it’s taking the advice of UNHCR --
MS. GAUGER: Yes.
QUESTION: -- as to whether you’re going to set that procedure in motion?
MS. GAUGER: Yes. It’s not up to the United States, really, to determine that resettlement should be a part of the international community, or it’s not – I mean, we obviously – we’re part of that, but we take the lead from the UNHCR. I mean, in general – this isn’t a hard and fast rule, but in general, we don’t look to resettlement in the early stages of a crisis because you just never know when it will resolve. And so people talk about protracted refugee situations being five years or more, so many of the refugees that were resettling to the United States have been in countries – in refugee camps or countries of asylum for 15, 20, 25 years.
Because the number is so small, we tend to focus on those longstanding refugees, but the crisis in Syria, I think, has just gotten to a point where it’s so large and the numbers are so large that even if things were to resolve in Syria next month, I think there would be people who couldn’t go home. So it’s a recognition that there are going to be people who aren’t going to be able to go home anytime soon no matter what happens.
Tends to be – I mean, I think a lot of the referrals we’ll get will be religious minorities, women, women and their families, maybe female-headed households who have been victims of violence, vocal opponents of the regime, that sort of thing.
MR. HENSHAW: I did want to take the opportunity to remind you that you’re all invited to our World Refugee Event tomorrow at the State Department which is hosted by Secretary Kerry. There was a notice to the press with the logistical details in it. And Assistant Secretary Richard, my boss, and the Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Alex --
MS. GAUGER: Aleinikoff.
MR. HENSHAW: -- Aleinikoff, thank you – are available for standups afterwards. So, thank you.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, I didn’t – are we quoting you directly or --
MODERATOR: Since you spoke, can they quote you?
MS. GAUGER: Yeah.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, and I didn’t catch your last name. Kelly?
MS. GAUGER: Kelly Gauger, G-a-u-g-e-r.
QUESTION: And the --
MS. GAUGER: I’m the Deputy Director of our Admissions Office, the Refugee Admissions Office.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
MS. GAUGER: Thank you.
MR. HENSHAW: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you all.