Richard Albright Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and Max Primorac Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance

Special Briefing via Telephone

For Immediate Release

Friday, September 25, 2020

 

The Africa Regional Media Hub

Moderator:  Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub.  I would like to welcome our participants from across the continent and thank all of you for taking part in this discussion. 

Today we are very pleased to be joined by Richard Albright, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, and Max Primorac, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance.  Our speakers will discuss U.S. leadership and humanitarian assistance and diplomacy in Africa as well as the U.S. commitment to addressing urgent humanitarian needs on the African continent.

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from our speakers.  Then we will turn to your questions.  We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the time that we have allotted.  As a reminder, today’s briefing is on the record.  And with that, I will turn it over to Mr. Richard Albright.  Mr. Albright, your opening remarks.

DAS Albright:  Thank you.  Hello, everyone.  It’s a privilege to be here with you today, together with Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator Primorac.  The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau of Humanitarian Affairs work shoulder to shoulder to drive U.S. leadership in the international humanitarian crisis responses around – across countries and regions of Africa and globally.

Speaking to the humanitarian need, Africa hosts more than a quarter of the world’s refugee population, now marked at 26 million worldwide, according to the latest global trends report from the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees.  In Africa, we see protracted and complex crises, like South Sudan and Somalia, the Sahel, as well as new and emerging crises in Cameroon and Burkina Faso.

In South Sudan, a brutal conflict has led to the largest refugee crisis in Africa, with nearly 2.3 million South Sudanese refugees in Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, and the DRC on top of 1.6 million internally displaced people.  Armed conflict and drought conditions have forced generations of Somalis to flee their homes.  The violence in multiple regions of the DRC has forcibly displaced more than 800,000 refugees and displaced more than 4 million people internally.

Neighboring countries absorb these displaced people.  Uganda, for instance, hosts the largest population of South Sudanese refugees, over 880,000, and the largest number of refugees from the DRC, nearly 400,000.  North African countries host growing numbers of Syrian refugees as well as sub-Saharan African refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe.  Global humanitarian needs are spiking, with the 2020 Global Humanitarian Overview identifying nearly 168 million people requiring humanitarian assistance and protection around the world.

Beyond the shocking number of vulnerable people, we’ve also seen a disturbing rise in attacks on the very aid workers who seek to help the world’s most vulnerable.  According to the Aid Worker Security Database, 2019 surpassed all previous recorded years in the number of major attacks committed against aid workers.  A total of 483 aid workers were killed, kidnapped, or wounded in 277 separate incidents of violence.  In 2019, South Sudan, Mali, the Central African Republic, and the DRC were among the top seven countries for the number of victims from attacks against aid workers, together with Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria.  And in recent months we have mourned the lives – mourned the loss of lives from the violent attacks of this nature in Niger and northeast Nigeria.

Shifting to what the U.S. does to help vulnerable people and work with our partners across Africa, I would like to underscore we are presently taking a leading role in the international response to every single one of these crisis situations I just covered.  In Fiscal Year 2019, the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration at the Department of State provided more than $960 million in humanitarian assistance alone in the African continent.  And in Fiscal Year 2020, we’re on track to provide nearly $1 billion.  And to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve provided nearly 120 million to African countries and regional responses in Africa.

And we provide this assistance through our partners, ranging from international humanitarian organizations such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, and the International Organization for Migration, as well as nongovernmental organizations, including those that help meet very local and specific needs through our Julia Taft grants.

It is a strategic imperative of the United States to assist the most vulnerable by providing leadership and expertise in humanitarian assistance, supporting displaced people close to their homes until they can safely and voluntarily return and/or immigrate.  We champion compliance with international humanitarian law and protect and assist conflict victims.  We’ve worked with partners to assist the safe and voluntary return of refugees to Mozambique, Chad, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Nigeria.

The United States Government’s leadership is representative of a broader tradition of generosity in humanitarian affairs, and this generosity is reflected in our private sector businesses, civil society organizations including faith-based organizations, right down to individual Americans, who donate more than any other nation and can be found working on the ground in crisis responses with international and nongovernmental organizations.

And I’d like to also highlight that while our support is crucial to efforts to protect and assist refugees, conflict victims, internally displaced persons, stateless persons, and vulnerable migrants, an important aspect of our support is often overlooked – that’s often overlooked is our focus on building the resources and capacities of host communities across Africa.  And we recognize there are social, economic, and political challenges that can be exacerbated by an influx of vulnerable people, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.  And our investments in vulnerable people are ultimately to get them on their feet and contribute to the host communities, improving the lives of everyone involved.

Another important takeaway I’d like to leave you with is that the United States highly values partnerships in international humanitarian crisis response.  And that’s part of the reason why our Deputy Secretary of State hosted a high-level dialogue yesterday with the world’s top 10 donors on global humanitarian needs on the margins of the UN General Assembly.  And as we mark the 75th anniversary of the United Nations as an international community of nations, we must commit ourselves, current and new donors, to mobilize resources to meet unprecedented needs.  As several speakers emphasized, this cannot come only from the top donors.  New and emerging donors need to step forward to bear this burden which falls so heavily on the countries hosting the refugees and displaced populations.

Equally important is the need to work together to find solutions to the conflicts that cause most forced displacement.  Across the Sahel regions, countries – region, the countries of Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Mali, we announced yesterday nearly $152 million in total U.S. funding to provide emergency assistance for refugees, internally displaced people, and vulnerable communities.

Just last week we announced an initial – an additional $5 million for the Education Cannot Wait fund, bringing our total support to 40 million since 2017.  In Ethiopia, 12,000 refugees and host community children in two regions benefitted from school construction and improvements as well as teacher training grants helping to improve local schools, integrate refugee education services into the national education system, and reduce reliance on humanitarian assistance over the long term.  That’s just one example of the kind of work that Education Cannot Wait is doing across the continent.

And finally, I’d like to highlight our support for the people of South Sudan, including South Sudanese refugees in neighboring countries with the nearly $108 million in funding announced yesterday by Acting Administrator Barsa, nearly 97 million of which is from our bureau in PRM, and support – primarily supports South Sudanese refugees in surrounding countries.  And that brings our total support for the South Sudan crisis this year to nearly $907 million.  And we’ve provided nearly five and a half billion to the South Sudan crisis since the start in 2014.  And that’s really a story of all of the dedicated partners providing lifesaving aid to refugees and local communities who shelter refugees, enabling children to go to school, people to have access to physical shelter, survivors of gender-based violence to receive help.

So with that, I’d like to turn to my colleague Max at USAID for his remarks, and then we look forward to your questions.  Thank you very much.

Mr. Primorac:  Thank you, DAS Albright, and good morning and good afternoon to everyone on the call.  I think it’s important, too, to restate that the United States is the world’s leading donor of humanitarian assistance.  Nearly two-thirds of this funding, over 6 billion, comes from USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance.  That’s my bureau.  And more of that – more than half of that amount is dedicated for Africa.

USAID leads and coordinates the U.S. Government’s disaster assistance efforts overseas, and we’re reaching tens of millions of people around the world with lifesaving aid.  In Africa, USAID responded to disasters in nearly 30 countries just last year, including responding to floods, droughts, the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the many complex emergencies that stem from the conflict and insecurity.  And we continue to support vulnerable communities across the African continent.

Yesterday, as DAS Albright mentioned, the U.S. announced nearly $152 million in additional humanitarian assistance for countries in the Sahel, and this includes more than 85 million from our Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance to provide, specifically, emergency food and shelter, access to primary healthcare, vital medical supplies and medicine, safe drinking water, and income-earning opportunities for families who have been economically impacted by the crisis.  Our Acting Administrator, John Barsa, also announced nearly 108 million in additional humanitarian assistance for our South Sudan response effort.  Of this amount, USAID will provide more than 11 million in emergency food assistance to make sure families have enough to eat.

Earlier this month, we announced an additional 15 million in humanitarian aid for the Ebola response efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The U.S., including its disaster assistance response teams, which we call DART, D-A-R-T, played a major role in stopping the previous outbreak of Ebola that ended in June, and we continue to be a key part in the efforts to fight the current outbreak.

In addition, we are responding to recent flooding that, as you know, is impacting wide swaths of East, Central, and West Africa.  This includes the countries of South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Chad, Niger, Cabo Verde, Senegal, and Sudan.  And in Sudan, we recently – we just airlifted 155 metric tons of critical relief supplies to help the people affected by the flooding there.

The United States also continues to lead COVID-19 response efforts throughout the world.  In Africa, USAID has provided over 254 million in humanitarian assistance to help prevent and respond to COVID-19 in some of the most vulnerable communities.  And because people are more resilient to crises and disasters when they are healthy, nourished, and economically secure, we are simultaneously working year-round in many countries throughout Africa to address the root causes of hunger and poverty in order to build a stable foundation for growth.  Thank you.

Moderator:  Thank you, Mr. Albright and Mr. Primorac.  We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.  We also ask that you limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing, U.S. humanitarian assistance.

Our first question will go to Maria Maalouf.  Maria, you may ask your question.

Question:  Good morning.  Yes.  My question is about the information in the country of Chad about humanitarian situation.  And some say that Idriss Déby, the president of Chad, led corruption mess in the country, and the humanitarian situation is very difficult there.

Moderator:  Maria, what’s your question?

Question:  What is the U.S. humanitarian project for Chad and how the U.S. can fight corruption that was provided by the president of Chad, I think, Mr. Déby?

DAS Albright:  I think maybe both Max and I might have a point to raise on that.  I mean, I don’t – we provide a range of humanitarian assistance in Chad and in the other countries to address the urgent humanitarian needs of populations that are impacted by – impacted by natural disasters that are in refugee populations, and there are some significant refugee populations in Chad from South Sudan, from Cameroon, from Nigeria.  And so we’re providing humanitarian assistance through humanitarian agencies – the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross, IOM, World Food Program, to meet the immediate needs of those people who are displaced or in need of assistance.

So our assistance doesn’t go to the government.  None of our humanitarian assistance goes to governments.  It goes to these international organizations and it goes to a range of nongovernmental organizations.  So we ensure that even if we’re operating in places where governments might not be up to our standards, we ensure that our assistance reaches the beneficiaries unimpeded, and that’s an absolute red line of ours.  So that’s how we protect our humanitarian interests and ensure that the needs of people are met.  Thank you.

Mr. Primorac:  This is – this is Max.  Similarly, USAID works through our partners on the ground, whether they’re international organizations, international NGOs, or faith-based organizations.  So as a rule throughout the world, our assistance does not go through the governments of the countries that we are present.  We do coordinate with host governments, but all of our assistance goes through our partners.  And this is in order to ensure that the lifesaving support that we’re providing is reaching the vulnerable populations directly.  Over.

Moderator:  Thank you.  The next question goes to Pearl Matibe of Open Parliament.

Question:  Good morning, DAS Albright and Mr. Primorac.  I appreciate you being available to us today.  I just want to ask a question.  I’m not sure perhaps if DAS Albright might have an idea on terms of – in terms of the number of displaced people in particularly northern Mozambique has been increasing.  Do we have an update or any information as to how quickly that number is rising and what that number is now, especially since October 2017 to today?

And also, I just wanted to check with you.  A lot of Zimbabweans have been migrating out of that country due to socioeconomic decline in that country since the early 2000s.  Do we have an idea as to how many Zimbabwean refugees are, say, in South Africa and elsewhere?  I’d appreciate it.  If you don’t have the information, perhaps I can reach out to your officers at – this week.  Thanks.

DAS Albright:  Yeah, thank you for the question.  I mean, the – I mean, I’ve seen estimates of a few hundred thousand people being displaced from northern Mozambique but I don’t have – I don’t have that number in front of me, but we can get back to you with some more specifics.  It’s obviously – it’s a fluid situation, so that figure changes a little bit over time. 

With regard to Zimbabwe, yes, there have been Zimbabweans who have migrated from the country in search of jobs and opportunities and I think it’s a fairly significant number.  We can also look at what those migration trends have been.  There aren’t very many Zimbabweans who are actually registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees as refugees, so that would be – it’s kind of a different concept of registration for people who have a well-founded fear of persecution and people who are economic migrants wouldn’t be registered in such a way.  But we’ll look around and see if we have any data on the migration numbers of Zimbabweans or some broader data on migration in Africa.  Thanks.

Mr. Primorac:  If I may – if I may add, there is a recent report apparently from the United Nations Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Assistance, OCHA, that in the last eight months in northern Mozambique, that due to insecurity and violence, there’s an estimated 250,000 people that have – that have been displaced.  That’s the latest that we have.  I think that comes from September 10th.

DAS Albright:  Yeah, good.  Thanks, Max.  That’s about what I was thinking but I didn’t have the number in front of me.  So thank you very much.

Moderator:  Thank you.  The next question comes from a journalist submitting a question online.  The journalist is Dusabemungu Ange de la Victoire of Top Africa News out of Rwanda.  The question is, “I would like to know more about the U.S. humanitarian – how it supports given to the South Sudanese refugees hosted in Palabek, in Uganda.  Do you have any information about those refugees?  If yes, let’s know about their situations and future plans that the U.S. Government has for them.  What about their return to their homeland and what is the U.S.’s concern about them?  With some information that we get from Salesians of Don Bosco who live there, it is clear that the refugees need to be supported, especially during this time of COVID-19.  How do you think the U.S. humanitarian support can help these refugees during this time and how much has the U.S. invested so far in the refugees across Africa and the East Africa region?”

DAS Albright:  Well, thank you for your interest and those questions.  So I think as I said in my opening remarks, there are – Uganda is hosting 880,000 refugees from South Sudan in addition to another 400,000 from the DRC.  And we provide humanitarian assistance through – primarily through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees but also other organizations and multiple nongovernmental organizations, and that reaches – most of the South Sudanese refugees are in the north of Uganda, and Palabek is one of the camps that’s near Bidi Bidi in the north where the population is concentrated.

Our – we have provided so far this year $322 million for the response to the South Sudan crisis.  Now, our funding isn’t always easy to identify specifically per country because we respond to the crisis affecting the population.  So our – the 322 million I cited supports refugees who are not only in Uganda but in Ethiopia, in Kenya, in Sudan who are from South Sudan.  So – but there is a significant portion of that that is supporting those refugees in Uganda, and that supports them with shelter, health care, water and sanitation, livelihoods, protection from gender-based violence, helps them find – get themselves registered, get access to services and employment.  And we work very closely as well with host communities to assure – to help them with the burden of bearing these large populations, and work very closely with the Ugandan authorities on access to services and matters of security as well.  Over.

Mr. Primorac:  Just to add to what DAS Albright just said, as I mentioned in my remarks, nearly half of the $6 billion that we’re providing globally is going to Africa.  And taking South Sudan as an example, in our Fiscal Year 2020 the amount is almost a billion dollars, over $900 million.  And since 2013 we have provided South Sudan nearly five and a half billion dollars.  And USAID with its aid to South Sudan is reaching more than a million, or 1.3 million, people each month.  And the kinds of things that we’re providing include food, nutrition, medical care, improved sanitation, shelter, safe drinking water, and protection for vulnerable communities that are affected by the conflict.  I think it’s important to note that we have on-the-ground disaster assistance response teams, or DARTs, that are there and they work very closely with host governments, very closely with international agencies, and they are constantly monitoring the situation as to how well we are meeting the needs and also identifying whether or not we need to increase our support. 

So we are – we have a very strong humanitarian footprint in Africa.  We are – we tend to be the largest donor for the countries on the humanitarian aid assistance front, and we’re always poised to be able to identify new humanitarian aid needs.  Thank you.

Moderator:  Thank you.  Our last question will go to Kevin Kelley of the Nation Media Group out of Kenya.  The question is, “It is well documented that South Sudanese officials continue to steal millions of dollars’ worth of aid intended for their people.  Why does the U.S. have faith that this latest infusion will actually benefit those it intends to help?”

Mr. Primorac:  Yeah, Richard, if I may.

DAS Albright:  Go ahead.  Yeah.

Mr. Primorac:  And this was asked earlier, and it’s going to be the same response.  We work directly with our trusted partners, partners that we’ve worked with in many other parts of the world and for many – for many years.  And just to give you a few examples, the World Food Program we work directly with and they’re providing directly to the people emergency food aid to about 160,000 people just in flood-affected areas.  There’s the International Organization of Migration as well, which both of our bureaus support.  There’s UNICEF as well.  There’s quite a few international NGOs and faith-based organizations.

So the money, our money doesn’t touch the government coffers as we’re working directly with our trusted partners who are on the ground, and that’s the way that we can ensure that there’s no malfeasance in the use of our funds, and most importantly, we can ensure that these vulnerable communities and desperate people are receiving the kind of lifesaving support that they need.  Thank you.

DAS Albright:  Yeah, you said it.  Thank you, Max.

Moderator:  Thank you.  That concludes today’s briefing.  I would like to thank our guests for speaking to us today and thank all of the journalists for participating.  If you have any questions about today’s briefing, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at AFMediaHub@state.gov.  And please remember to follow us on Twitter, @AfricaMediaHub.  Thank you.

Last updated: October 22, 2020

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