U.S. Ambassador Attends World Refugee Day Celebrations

U.S. Ambassador Robert F. Godec Remarks for World Refugee Day – Kakuma Refugee Camp, Turkana County, Kenya – As Prepared –

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His Excellency, Governor Nanok, other distinguished guests,

Mabibi na mabwana, hamjambo! Habari zenu! Good afternoon!

President Obama once said that “the ordeals refugees survive and the aspirations they hold resonate with us as Americans. Our country was built by people who fled oppression and war, leapt at opportunity, and worked day and night to remake themselves in this new land.”

The United States is a land of immigrants and refugees.  One hundred and forty years ago, almost to this day, the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor.  It has stood there ever since, a beacon of hope in a world where, all too often, people have been moved to acts of terrible violence against one another for no other reason than the language they speak, the God they worship, or the ideas they believe in.

The experience of the United States underscores the truth and importance of the message for this World Refugee Day, that “we should all get to know refugees – they are people like you and me.”

I am proud to be here to commemorate World Refugee Day with you. I would like to thank the hosts of this event, including the Government of Kenya and the Department of Refugee Affairs, and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Country Representative Raouf Mazou. The United States applauds the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for its global leadership in protecting some of the most vulnerable people in the world. The world today confronts a refugee crisis as unprecedented numbers of men, women and children from all over the world seek safe harbor. The United States has long been a strong supporter of UNHCR.

I also wish to commend the Government of Kenya for its long history of hosting refugees and providing protection to people fleeing persecution, conflict, and other forms of insecurity.

The Governor and people of Turkana deserve special thanks as well for their support, and in particular for the allocation of land for a new refugee camp in Kalobeyei. Thank you Governor!

The United States has played a leading role in responding to the needs of refugees, including in efforts to help refugees return home when conditions allow them to do so in safety and dignity. The United States is the largest single donor to humanitarian activities worldwide, providing approximately $6 billion – that’s nearly 600 billion Kenya shillings – last year alone. This includes $113 million, or 11 billion Kenya shillings, to support life-saving assistance and food requirements to refugees in Kenya. Last year, nearly 70,000 refugees from 65 countries found a new home in the United States. The U.S. admits more refugees for permanent resettlement than all other countries combined, and last year we welcomed 4,365 refugees from Kenya.

Hosting refugees is challenging, but it is vital and speaks to our common humanity. As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said during his May visit, Kenya can be extraordinarily proud of its efforts to welcome refugees. This support has provided a vital lifeline in a time of need, and it will not be forgotten – either by the refugees who rely on the country for its generosity, or by the international community. Treating all people – no matter where they come from – with respect, honor, and dignity is not only the right thing to do, but it also builds trust among communities and improves security. Recent terrorist attacks have reinforced the need for all countries and all communities to unite in the effort to combat violent extremism. The United States stands with the people of Kenya, and with the refugees hosted here, in the effort to end the scourge of terrorism and improve security for everyone.

Ultimately, ending senseless conflict and persecutions is what will finally bring suffering and exile to an end. The United States is working to promote lasting peace and stability in this region. As stability improves, we hope that more refugees are able to return home – voluntarily and in dignity – through processes like the Tripartite Agreement between UNHCR and the governments of Kenya and Somalia. It is essential, however, that all returns be voluntary and in dignity. We are committed to working for a durable solution, to allow the refugees to return home safely.

Finally, as the world faces the dramatic increase in refugees of recent years, there is a role for everybody in the world. By keeping borders open in emergencies, by ensuring that humanitarian supplies get through, by providing critical services, by making resources available, by making land such as the people of Turkana have done, or by building peace and tolerance, we can all do our part.

Thank you for what you do, on this day, on every day, to support refugees and give them a chance. The work you do gives every humanitarian and every human reason to be proud. To the refugees, thank you for your strength and courage. We join you in marking this World Refugee Day 2015.

Thank you for the privilege of being here with you today.

Asanteni sana.