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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > Former Secretaries of State > Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell > Speeches and Remarks > 2002 > June

Remarks at World Refugee Day Event

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Union Station
Washington, DC
June 20, 2002

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you very much, Donatella, and good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to this magnificent building, Union Station, and welcome to Refugee Day. On behalf of President Bush, I want to thank the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for its life-saving work and for organizing these Refugee Day Events all around the world.

And I am delighted to share the podium with Ms. Angelina Jolie, UNHCR's Goodwill Ambassador. As Secretary of State, I have many ambassadors who report to me, and I deal with many ambassadors who are here in Washington from around the world, but Ms. Jolie is the only ambassador I deal with who has her own fan club. Please welcome her. (Applause.)

Angelina, I know I speak for everyone here when I say that we all very much admire and appreciate your commitment to the world's refugees. They are fortunate indeed to have such an eloquent, energetic and effective an advocate as you are.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, before proceeding, it is my great honor to read a statement from the President of the United States:

"On World Refugee Day, I commend the determination and bravery of refugees fleeing tyranny in many parts of the world. This year's celebration focuses on refugee women. They deserve our special admiration for overcoming the daunting challenges they face every day.

"Today is also a time to be reminded of the terrible circumstances that drive people from their homelands in search of freedom and safety. America will always stand firm for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity and the rule of law.

"As a country that has seen so many refugees contribute so much to our society, this day has special meaning for Americans. I am proud that we are the largest donor to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the world's leader in accepting refugees for resettlement.

"Today I reaffirm our commitment to protect and assist refugees, promoting their right to seek asylum and provide opportunities for their resettlement as needed. This year in Afghanistan, over a million Afghan refugees are returning home to restart their lives in a country free of Taliban oppression. Americans are proud of our contribution to this progress and will continue to assist in these efforts.

"This day we also recognize UNHCR and private voluntary organizations for their courage and tireless work under often extraordinarily difficult conditions. Their efforts bring hope to millions of refugees worldwide.

"Signed, George W. Bush, President of the United States."


SECRETARY POWELL: To look into the face of a refugee woman is to peer into the very eyes of the exodus. Mirrored in them are memories of fear and flight, of devastation and despair. But when those extraordinary eyes look back at your, they are also the eyes of hope, and surely they are the eyes of a heroine.

Of the 22 million refugees and others under the care of UNHCR in the world today, 18 million are women and children. We have seen it again and again, from Cambodia to Colombia, from Kosovo to Congo, from Liberia to Bosnia, from Sierra Leone to East Timor to Afghanistan. Wherever tyranny and terror, conflict and chaos, force families to flee their homelands, it is the women -- it is the women -- who become the most vulnerable to the worst kind of violence. And is it also the women who play the most vital roles in their families' survival.

For them, every new day brings life or death, burdens and dangers. Most often it falls to refugee women to provide the family's income and to provide an education for the children. It is most often up to them to search for fuel, food, water, medicine -- the very bare essentials of life. They risk bullets, land mines and rape to provide the little that their families need just to survive.

The strengths refugee women bring are also critical to the functioning of the refugee camps, and when safe returns are possible, their contributions have proven crucial to the recovery and reconstruction of their home countries.

Afghanistan has been much in the headlines, and we are privileged indeed to welcome today Safia Jahed, an Afghan refugee woman. In a few moments, you will hear her story. After a harrowing journey out of Afghanistan, she and her family lived as refugees in Pakistan. They have resettled in the United States and now live in Virginia.

Safia is only one of the five million Afghans who were driven from their country during more than two decades of invasion, civil war, and most recently Taliban oppression. And each of them, every single one of them, has a compelling story to tell.

Yet I know Safia would be the first to remind us that there are refugees in need of protection and assistance not just in Afghanistan, but in every continent. This is a worldwide challenge, and meeting it requires a strong, sustained commitment from the entire world.

As President Bush has so strongly stated, the United States will continue to be a global leader on behalf of refugees. Decade after decade, ordinary Americans throughout our country have generously supported worldwide refugee relief efforts, and communities across America also have opened their hearts and their homes to refugees in need.

And here I want to single out the outstanding young winners of UNHCR's poster competition. These youngsters represent hometowns all across our great country. Now their artistry is on display here in the nation's capital, and we are all so proud of these young people.

It is often said that America is a nation of immigrants. We are also a nation of refugees. And as President Bush said in his statement, refugees who have settled here in the United States have given back so much in return, contributing to America's great vibrancy and our great diversity. America's commitment to refugees is enduring. It is about who we are as a people.

The Bush Administration will not permit the attacks of September 11th and the continuing threat from terrorism to shake our nation's commitment to refugees. That commitment speaks to our most fundamental values -- values of compassion, tolerance and humanity; values that are the antithesis of everything that terrorists stand for. We will continue to afford refugees the full range of protection and assistance, and we will continue to be the world's leader in refugee resettlement.

The United States will maintain our support to UNHCR and other international agencies and their partners, the many private voluntary organizations that are devoted to easing the plight of refugees. These dedicated humanitarians often risk their own lives to bring relief to the suffering. It is noble work, indeed.

And America will continue to be a champion of refugee women. We will promote programs to protect them from sexual and gender-based violence. We will foster their economic self-reliance. We will work to ensure their participation in the management of refugee camps, and we will help improve their access and that of their children to health care and education.

The powerful photographs here on display at Union Station and the wonderful refugee groups who are performing over the next week will give tens of thousands of visitors a chance to look into the faces of the world's refugees; faces of different colors, from a great variety of cultures -- all children of the same creator; faces that tell stories of strength, stories of courage, and above all stories of hope. Today, with caring people all around the globe, we renew our pledge to keep that precious hope alive, now and forever.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)


Released on June 20, 2002

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