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21 June 2016
Open Letter to the Members of UNA-NCA on the Refugee Crisis
On June 20thWorld Refugee Day—the United Nations announced a new record—not the kind of record that we can be proud of.
According to the UN  Refugee Agency’s  Global Trends Report, 65.3 million people have been displaced by world conflicts (about the population of France), including nearly 100,000 children traveling alone, fleeing gangs, war and persecution. And this doesn’t count those displaced by earthquakes and other natural disasters. More people have crossed that bridge than at any time in recorded history. Whether it is the civil war in Syria, Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan, the Islamic State in Iraq, drug gangs in Central America, oppression in Eritrea, fleeing Boko Haram in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and  Chad,  ethnic cleansing in South Sudan, Burundi or the Central African Republic, among other conflict areas, multitudes have left their homes, their communities, their work, their roots, and their traditions, as they face an unknown future. Some 41 million are displaced in their own country. More than half the displaced children are out of school,  and we run the risk of losing a generation of educated and skilled workers.

 The United States  historically has resettled more refugees than any other country. We have agreed to take 85,000 refugees this fiscal year, 10,000 of them from Syria (although only 2,805 have been resettled so far). The US is the largest  donor of humanitarian assistance, exceeding $6 billion last year. As thousands attempt to cross the Mediterranean each day, with tragic reports filling the airways of boats capsizing and children drowning, there are strong advocates that the US should take in many more Syrian refugees. Given the political climate in the United States—the fierce  opposition of some members of Congress and State Governors and the incendiary  campaign rhetoric—there are limits on what the US government can do, as Assistant Secretary Richard stated so regrettably at UNA-NCA’s Annual Meeting.

 There are, however,  important steps that we as Americans can take to support the assimilation of Syrian refugees at home and to improve the conditions under which they live abroad. Of course, there is much we can do as individuals in our communities to welcome refugees and to support the underfunded UN agencies, the UN Refugee Agency, the World Food Program, UNICEF, and others. We can support Secretary Kerry’s  tireless efforts to negotiate a political settlement that will enable the refugees to return to their home country. For that reason, enabling them to stay in close proximity, where the language and culture are familiar, would facilitate their return.

The education of children in resettlement areas is a huge challenge, and UNA-USA has proposed an Adopt A Future Campaign. Of course, UNA- NCA members are free to participate as individuals in this program.  However, we at UNA-NCA need to decide what our Chapter can do to address this crisis of the 21st Century. Should we consider, for example, involving the area schools in our Global Classrooms program in support of the UNA-USA initiative? We should have a program ready to go by the time President Obama hosts the Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis at the UN General Assembly in September.

To think through these challenges and make recommendation to the UNA-NCA Board, I am looking for volunteers to serve on a Refugee Crisis Steering Committee. If you would like to serve on this Steering Committee, please email me at dbliss@unanca.org. I hope to hear from you.

Thank you for your support and commitment.

Ambassador Donald T. Bliss (ret)
United Nations Association of the National Capital Area