By Anne C. Richard
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Congratulations to the Norwegian Refugee Council and its Internal Displacement Monitoring Center on an excellent global report. PRM widely uses this report and looks forward to its release each year. The report serves as an important PRM reference for IDP information. The State Department has placed a priority on strengthening coverage of displacement issues in our annual Human Rights Country Reports, and the information contained in IDMC’s Global IDP Report is a valuable resource in preparing the Human Rights Report. We appreciate IDMC’s analysis, the identification of trends, and the report’s useful way of framing global IDP issues.
In Syria today, we see millions displaced because they are fleeing fighting between the regime and the opposition. Latest estimates are 80,000 dead, 4.25 million displaced inside Syria, and 1.5 million refugees. In this case, the government is not only failing to help internally displaced persons, it is slaughtering them. Troops attack civilians, people are bombed indiscriminately from the sky, hospitals and bakeries are targeted. International organizations are trying to reach everyone in need, but gaining access to them is very challenging and, at times, impossible. When John Ging of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) tried to lead a convoy from Damascus to Aleppo, it had to pass 54 checkpoints manned by the regime and different opposition factions along the route. The U.S. supports efforts to get across borders and into Syria, but this too is very difficult to do, and more is needed.
I have just returned last night from a trip to Ecuador and Colombia. In Colombia, I met with government officials who are very concerned about the 4-to-5 million Colombian IDPs. There the government of President Santos is trying to do the right thing and implement a far-reaching Victims Law. We saw examples of how local governments are trying to provide IDPs with the range of aid they need to restart their lives and begin to recover from the horrors they have experienced. So in some ways the Colombia approach could serve as a model for other countries – certainly with regard to the seriousness with which it has examined the needs of the IDPs and in the breadth of the services it aims to deliver to them. In other ways, the Colombia approach is unique to Colombian laws, its Constitution and its own bureaucracy. (For example, there is a role for a Public Ministry that is supposed to represent the needs of the people, and it is considered a separate fourth branch of government. The Constitutional Court is deeply involved not just in interpreting the law, but in investigating its implementation.)
Still, I return from Colombia very concerned because every day people are still being forced to flee. In Ecuador and Colombia, we met people who were newly displaced. Most had fled intimidation and threats. For example, one woman had left when her restaurant was blown up by a grenade. A couple
who farmed fled when they were given a choice: either agree to cook for combatants of illegal armed groups or they had one half-hour to leave. Another family was indebted to members of criminal groups and fled after receiving threats to their lives. They became IDPs in Colombia. They were tracked down and threatened a second time, and so they fled to Ecuador.
So all of the good work being done by the Colombian government is deserving of praise. But the continuing conflict and uncertain prospects for a true and comprehensive peace are cause for serious concern.
IDMC has asked me to focus on the role of UNHCR in responding to internal displacement. UNHCR is PRM’s largest partner and has an essential role to play in responding to the humanitarian needs of conflict-affected IDPs. UNHCR has the lead in the areas of protection, emergency shelter, and camp coordination and management. We have heard sobering news today that the global number of IDPs is larger than ever before, and that 6.5 million persons became newly displaced in their home countries last year. This underscores the point that UNHCR’s responsibilities continue to grow. UNHCR – and all of us involved in humanitarian relief – have to get this right.
The international system to assist and protect IDPs depends on all parties being able to fulfill their roles under the cluster system, including UNHCR. At last count, UNHCR was the lead agency for about 30 clusters in nearly 20 countries. This means that UNHCR is shouldering responsibility to protect or assist more than 15 million IDPs worldwide.
PRM believes that UNHCR should allocate its resources based first and foremost on humanitarian need, not on the classification status of beneficiary populations. In our view, IDPs are not a secondary priority. UNHCR possesses a set of commitments to IDPs, and these commitments should not be a lower priority for the agency relative to its other populations of concern – refugees, returnees, and stateless persons. UNHCR’s commitment to all of its protection and assistance responsibilities, including those for internally displaced persons under the cluster system, must be resolute and steadfast.
We are communicating this perspective regularly and consistently to UNHCR at multiple levels – from the High Commissioner and Deputy High Commissioner, to mid-management and field staff. We will continue to do so publicly and privately. As you may know, last year we issued a public statement at UNHCR’s Executive Committee meeting about the need for UNHCR to be “resolute” toward its IDP responsibilities. Last February, PRM discussed UNHCR’s commitment to IDPs during a day-long dialogue between PRM and UNHCR on protection issues that were led by Deputy Assistant Secretary Catherine Wiesner. Earlier this month, I raised this issue again with High Commissioner Guterres for extended discussion.
UNHCR officials have regularly assured us that they are committed to their IDP responsibilities. UNHCR has told us that their recent cutbacks in IDP programs are largely confined to activities that fall outside UNH
CR’s designated cluster duties. PRM will monitor UNHCR’s program decisions in the field. We welcome input from NGO colleagues about what they are seeing as well.
Let’s turn to finances. During the past three years (2010-2012), UNHCR expenditures for assistance and protection of IDPs totaled $1.1 billion for the three years combined. UNHCR divides its budget into four categories, or “pillars”: one budget category for refugees; one budget category for statelessness issues; one budget category for reintegration programs; the fourth budget category is IDPs. UNHCR spent $1.1 billion in that fourth budget category over the past three years. We will continue to analyze whether this is sufficient in our discussions with UNHCR. But the point I want to make today is that considerable UNHCR resources have gone to assist and protect IDPs in recent years -- more than $1 billion.
PRM gives UNHCR the flexibility to exercise its best judgment about how to allocate the USG contribution based on the humanitarian needs that UNHCR sees in the field, whether they be refugees, IDPs, stateless persons, or returnees. PRM’s contributions to UNHCR give UNHCR the ability to shift USG funding among budget categories and into IDP programs that need more support. A substantial portion of the $1.1 billion that UNHCR has spent on IDP field operations in the past three years has come from the USG.
Even with new refugee populations around the world, we believe that UNHCR needs to ensure that all its staff members at all levels understand the agency’s commitment to IDP responsibilities, particularly staff in the field and when future budgets are being planned.
At PRM, we are paying close attention to UNHCR’s budget data that show how UNHCR spends its resources. We look forward in the next few days to receiving from UNHCR its final expenditure report for 2012, which will show how much UNHCR spent last year in each budget category, including for IDP programs. We will work with UNHCR to try to ensure that it is meeting the most urgent humanitarian needs as tight budgets force tough choices.
PRM will continue to encourage stronger UNHCR leadership of the Global Protection Cluster as well as more effective and consistent UNHCR leadership of clusters at the country level. UNHCR needs to ensure that its personnel have the specialized training and experience they need to serve as cluster coordinators in IDP emergencies. That is a tall challenge for UNHCR’s small IDP Unit and the agency’s other divisions.
Within PRM, we have work to do as well. We need to make sure that we convey a consistent and coherent message to UNHCR that we expect UNHCR to meet its IDP responsibilities. As I said earlier, I believe we are already doing that in private and in our public statements. If some of you see specific examples where PRM needs to do this better, let me know.
We at PRM/Washington will make a point of working with our staff in the field to closely track UNHCR’s work with IDPs and UNHCR’s performance within the cluster system. One way we are doing this is through our twice-yearly
review of UNHCR’s country operations plans. This process results in findings that we convey to UNHCR headquarters.
And thirdly, PRM will continue to strengthen coordination with our colleagues at USAID. Nancy Lindborg and I work closely together. We have traveled to emergency situations together. We count on our respective staffs to communicate and coordinate well. We now have an interagency Humanitarian Policy Working Group that includes PRM, USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA), State Bureau for International Organizations (IO), the State Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance (F), and State colleagues at the U.S. Mission in New York and Geneva. For 2013, our interagency Working Group decided to focus our policy efforts on a handful of issues, including UNHCR’s commitment and engagement on IDP issues.
So this is not only a PRM priority; it is a collective priority of the humanitarian arm of the USG.
In conclusion, humanitarian budgets are tight. The Syria emergency in particular is stretching resources beyond anything we have ever seen before. The international community has to make sure that assistance and protection for IDPs around the world does not fall backward. We need to continue to strengthen the system of response. We all realize that multiple UN agencies – not only UNHCR – have responsibilities in IDP emergencies. But at PRM we also recognize that UNHCR has been charged with playing a hugely important role. And the well-being of millions of IDPs depends in part on UNHCR living up to those responsibilities. So we pledge to continue working closely with UNHCR to help it shoulder this role.
I want to thank Brookings for hosting the Washington release of the report. There is no better place in Washington to unveil a report on IDPs. The Brookings IDP Project is an important actor in Washington and internationally on IDP policy issues. We are well aware that the Brookings IDP Project provides essential support to the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons. Thank you for that. Brookings’ briefings and reports – some of which are critical of USG policies – always have our attention and respect. When Brookings points out ways the USG should do better, we listen closely.Delivered by Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Elizabeth Hopkins at the Brookings Institute, Norwegian Refugee Council & Internal Displacement Monitoring Center on May 24, 2013. Anne C. Richard was sworn in as Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration on April 2, 2012. Prior to her appointment, Ms. Richard was the vice president of government relations and advocacy for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), an international aid agency that helps refugees, internally displaced and other victims of conflict. She was also a non-resident Fellow of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University/SAIS and a board member of the Henry L. Stimson Center.
Richard has a B.S. in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and an M.A. in Public Policy Studies from the University of Chicago.