Congress Urged to Resist Massive Cuts in U.S. Humanitarian Aid

Letter from more than 50 national security and humanitarian leaders also calls on Congress to protect critical role of the State Department Refugee Bureau  

WASHINGTON—On the eve of congressional testimony from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the U.S. Department of State Budget Request for FY 2020 before the House Appropriations Committee, over 50 former national security and foreign policy officials, as well as leaders in the NGO community, called upon Congress to resist administration proposals to dramatically cut U.S. humanitarian assistance. The letter also urges the Congress to protect the key role of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM).

The Trump administration’s FY 2020 budget request proposes a reduction in humanitarian aid of more than $3 billion, or more than one-third of the amount the United States is expected to spend on such aid in this fiscal year. The request also includes an ill-considered presidential reorganization proposal that—if enacted—would dramatically weaken the State Department’s capacity to protect and assist refugees by removing the authorities of PRM to program and administer overseas refugee assistance.

The signatories wrote that they believe that “removing these authorities from the Department of State would be an error of grave proportion, as refugee issues are rooted in international politics and diplomacy, key concerns of the Department of State and U.S. foreign policy.” 

“This misguided proposal would deprive the government of critical expertise provided by PRM in refugee assistance programming and would undermine humanitarian diplomacy,” the letter goes on to say.

Arthur “Gene” Dewey, one of the signatories of the letter, served as Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration in the administration of George W. Bush. He commented:

America’s stellar record in dealing with refugee and other displacement issues has for many decades depended on the fusion of State Department’s diplomatic and humanitarian arms, with the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) playing a key role in programming refugee aid and promoting burden-sharing among governments around the world. This bad proposal would sacrifice this winning combination for no good reason.

Some of the most prominent and experienced former U.S. diplomats and national security officials signed the letter, including William J. Burns, former Deputy Secretary of State, Ryan Crocker, former U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Kuwait and Lebanon, Michele Flournoy, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Robert McFarlane, former U.S. National Security Advisor, Nicholas Burns, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Avril Haines, former Principal Deputy National Security Advisor, among many others. NGO leaders from CARE, Church World Service, the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, and a number of additional groups, signed the letter.

Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International and one of the NGO signers, commented:

In recent years, Congress has repeatedly affirmed the importance of generous levels of international humanitarian assistance and the vital role of the Department of State. It is time that the administration heeded this critically important message, which serves American interests and American values. Congress must stay the course on U.S. humanitarian aid.

The letter was sent earlier today to the chairs and ranking members of the U.S. House and Senate Appropriations Committee and the U.S. House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs. Additionally, it was sent to the chairs and ranking members of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee and the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.     

Full Text

Dear Members of Congress:

As former diplomats and national security officials, as well as leaders of non-governmental organizations, we write to express our most serious concern about the President’s 2020 budget proposal for international refugee and humanitarian assistance. At a time in which global forced displacement, at nearly 70 million, is at its highest level since these numbers have been recorded, it is disheartening that the administration is proposing a reduction in humanitarian aid of more than $3 billion, or more than one-third of the amount the United States is expected to spend on such aid in this fiscal year. Such cuts would have devastating impacts on civilians at grave risk in countries experiencing conflicts or natural disasters, and we urge you to sustain and even augment the current levels of refugee and humanitarian aid.

We are also alarmed by an ill-considered presidential reorganization proposal in the 2020 budget presentation that—if enacted—would dramatically weaken the State Department’s capacity to protect and assist refugees, by removing the authorities of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) to program and administer overseas refugee assistance.

We believe that removing these authorities from the Department of State would be an error of grave proportion, as refugee issues are rooted in international politics and diplomacy, key concerns of the Department of State and U.S. foreign policy. This misguided proposal would deprive the government of critical expertise provided by PRM in refugee assistance programming and would undermine humanitarian diplomacy. Whether in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, or South Sudan, the Department of State’s efforts to address humanitarian crises must include the tightest coordination of diplomatic engagement and emergency assistance, as displacement needs become key issues of concern for U.S. counterparts during bilateral discussions on issues relating to politics and security. For all these reasons, it is vitally important that the Department of State sustain its role in the programming of refugee assistance.

Our perspectives are unambiguously reflected in the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act, the measure which authorizes the State Department to provide refugee aid and which the president’s budget would effectively eviscerate. The Act recognizes and provides authority for State Department engagement with key international organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. With the troubling change proposed in the president’s budget, we are convinced that these crucial relationships would suffer significantly.

We also firmly believe that the elimination of PRM’s responsibility for programming assistance would have profound and negative implications for our government’s capacity to influence policy issues of key concern to the United States. It would also be ironic, as this is one of the bureaus at State that has enjoyed strong bipartisan support over many years.

In conclusion, we once again encourage you in the strongest of terms to sustain the roles and important mission of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.

Sincerely,

Former government officials:

Robert M. Beecroft Former Head of Mission, OSCE Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Rand Beers Former Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security

Daniel Benjamin Former Ambassador-at-Large and State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism

Robert Blake Former Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Former U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia and to Sri Lanka and the Maldives

Barbara Bodine Former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen

Reuben Brigety Former U.S. Ambassador to the African Union

Mark Brzezinski Former U.S. Ambassador to Sweden Former National Security Council Director for Russian/Eurasian Affairs and Southeast European Affairs

Ambassador (ret.) Nicholas Burns Former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs

William J. Burns Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State

Sarah Charles Former National Security Council Director for Humanitarian Affairs

Lorne Craner Former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Former Member, National Security Council Staff

Ryan Crocker Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Kuwait and Lebanon Member of the Board, Mercy Corps

Sarah Cross Former National Security Council Director for Refugee and Migration Policy

James Cunningham Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, to Afghanistan and to Israel

Arthur “Gene” Dewey Former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration

Nancy Ely-Raphel Former U.S. Ambassador to Slovenia Former Coordinator for the Balkans, U.S. Department of State Former Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State and Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons

Michele Flournoy Former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy

Gordon Gray Former U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia Former Director, State Department Office of Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Operations Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs

Avril Haines Former Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Former Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency

David Kramer Former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Daniel C. Kurtzer Former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt and Israel

Ellen Laipson Former Vice Chair, U.S. National Intelligence Council

Frank Loy Former Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs

Robert “Bud” McFarlane Former U.S. National Security Advisor

Phyllis Oakley Former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Former Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research

Lynn Pascoe Former US Ambassador to Malaysia and Indonesia Former UN Undersecretary General for Political Affairs

Steven Pomper Former Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights

James Purcell Former Director, Bureau of Refugee Program Former Director General, International Organization for Migration (IOM)

Anne Richard Former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration

Ellen Sauerbrey Former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration

William H. Taft Former Legal Advisor, Department of State Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Former General Counsel, U.S. Department of Defense

Earl Anthony Wayne Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and Argentina Former Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs

Maureen White Former Senior Advisor on Humanitarian Issues to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan

Representatives of Non-governmental Organizations:

Eleanor Acer Senior Director, Refugee Protection Human Rights First

T. Alexander Aleinikoff Director, Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility, The New School Former UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Former General Counsel, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Department of Justice

Scott Arbeiter President, World Relief

Sheba Crocker Vice President for Humanitarian Policy and Practice, CARE USA

Elizabeth Ferris Research Professor, Institute for the Study of International Migration Georgetown University

Rebecca Heller Executive Director, International Refugee Assistance Project

Mark Hetfield President and CEO, HIAS

Margaret Huang Executive Director, Amnesty International USA

Anwar A. Khan President, Islamic Relief USA

Erol Kekic Executive Director, Immigration and Refugee Program, Church World Service

Neal Keny-Guyer CEO, Mercy Corps

Abby Maxman President & CEO, Oxfam America

Carolyn Miles President and CEO, Save the Children

David Miliband President and CEO, International Rescue Committee

Eskinder Negash President and CEO, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

Eric Schwartz President, Refugees International, Former Assistant Secretary of State for Population Refugees and Migration

Tsehaye Teferra President and CEO, Ethiopian Community Development Council

Joan Timoney Senior Director of Advocacy, Women’s Refugee Commission

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah President & CEO, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

Wendy Young President, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)