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Kenya Refugee Issues

Samuel Witten, Acting Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration
Nairobi, Kenya
August 6, 2008

Acting Assistant Secretary of State Samuel Witten made the following remarks to the press on August 6, 2008 in Nairobi. Mr. Witten was in Kenya and Ethiopia to review the refugee assistance and admissions programs that are funded by U. S. taxpayers.

Our refugee program has two parts. We have a worldwide international assistance budget of over one billion dollars per year. This money goes to international organizations such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as to non-governmental organizations such as the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children, CARE, and many other important organizations serving refugees and displaced persons. We also resettle in the United States many thousands of refugees who cannot return to their countries of nationality and who have no option of integrating in their host country.

This is my first visit to Kenya. I came because the United States has a longstanding and deep partnership with Kenya, and because Kenya has faced – and continues to face – many difficult issues relating to refugees inside the country from elsewhere in the region, including persons from Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, and elsewhere, in addition to internally displaced persons within the borders of this country. More generally, I came here because of the U.S. Government’s longstanding commitment to address issues relating to refugees in the Horn of Africa.

Kenya has consistently been generous in its willingness to serve as a refuge for those in need. The United States is firmly committed to working closely with the Government of Kenya, with UNHCR, and with the other organizations I mentioned, to address the challenges that result from these many thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons.

I’d like to give you some figures about U.S. assistance in the region and to Kenya specifically. My bureau’s overall assistance budget this year for the continent of Africa as a whole will exceed $300 million, as it has for the last several years. Our recent support for programs in Kenya has exceeded $20 million dollars with assistance to the Horn of Africa representing approximately $50 million. My bureau has contributed almost $5 million to ICRC and UNHCR for persons internally displaced during post election violence. This assistance specific to refugees and internally displaced persons is in addition to the even greater assistance provided by the U.S. Government as a whole for organizations such as the World Food Program. Total U.S. assistance in the Horn of Africa this year will be more than $800 million.

This week I am meeting with the leaders of the U.S. Government’s humanitarian partners throughout the region, including at UNHCR, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Organization for Migration, and numerous NGOs, all of which are providing life-sustaining assistance to displaced persons in the region.

Within Kenya, the United States is helping to pay for the operation and maintenance of the UNHCR refugee camps at Kakuma and Dadaab. The population in these camps is large, totaling about 250,000 persons from Somalia, Sudan, and many other countries. During my visit this week, I stayed at the Dadaab camp, met with the leadership of the camp’s refugees, with local Kenyan officials, and with officials from UNHCR and its partners implementing assistance programs for refugees. I affirmed the commitment of the United States to provide continued assistance for this camp in addition to our other relief efforts within Kenya at Kakuma and elsewhere.

In addition to our work with refugees, the United States provided substantial financial assistance to international organizations in late 2007 and this year to assist the Government of Kenya in its efforts to address the difficult situation of the many thousands of Kenyans who were displaced during the civil unrest in this country after the December 2007 elections. We were pleased to be able to play a role in helping the people of Kenya during this difficult time.

Apart from this financial assistance, the United States has a long tradition of resettling vulnerable refugees into our country from Kenya and many other countries. We have resettled tens of thousands of refugees in recent years from Africa as part of the program, and this year, as in previous years, we will continue to resettle thousands of African refugees who have no other durable solution, from countries including Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia. My program provides these refugees a new life and a new start in the United States

Earlier this afternoon, I met with leaders of Kenya’s national government, including Minister of Immigration Otieno Kajwang and Peter Kusimba, the Commissioner for Refugee Affairs. I reaffirmed my government’s commitment to work in partnership with the Government of Kenya on these difficult issues. As I noted at the outset, the Government of Kenya has shown a consistent commitment to our two governments’ shared humanitarian values, and I applaud the government’s efforts, under often difficult circumstances, to provide safe haven to the vulnerable in the region.


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