A Message from RI President Eric Schwartz on Advocacy Efforts for Refugees and Displaced Persons in our Current Political Environment

Dear Friends, Supporters, and Others Interested in the Work of Refugees International:

I wanted to comment briefly on the unusual political environment in which we are operating and some of its implications for the work of Refugees International (RI).

Since the end of World War II, American presidents have almost uniformly articulated perspectives on humanitarianism that reflect the Refugees International mission to promote and protect the rights and well-being of refugees and others who are forcibly displaced. Harry Truman was our first post-war president and, indeed, the Truman Directive of 1945 advocated for resettlement of post-war refugees. Moreover, the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 provided for such resettlement, though not in the numbers Truman wanted.

Dwight Eisenhower, in signing the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 authorizing the resettlement of over 200,000 refugees, declared that the “action demonstrates again America’s traditional concern for the homeless, the persecuted, and the less fortunate of other lands.” Eisenhower’s successor, John F. Kennedy, signed the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act in 1962, which has provided tens of billions of dollars in humanitarian aid overseas. In his signing statement, President Kennedy declared that “this Government’s leadership will be maintained in the great humanitarian endeavor of helping the world’s stateless and homeless people,” adding that “we will be carrying forward a great American tradition.”

Since RI’s founding, all U.S. presidents—Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and those who followed through Barack Obama—were advocates for refugees. For instance, George H.W. Bush supported refugee resettlement and provided critical humanitarian assistance to the Kurds after the first Gulf War. The administration of his son, George W. Bush, increased Iraqi refugee resettlement to nearly 14,000 annually while endorsing an international compact that championed humanitarian aid based on need. Barack Obama sustained that tradition, supporting generous overseas refugee aid and increasing refugee resettlement.

Over this long period, RI’s job was essentially to prod presidential administrations to follow through on their articulated commitments.

We are in a very different place today, as the current presidential administration has explicitly rejected many (though not all) of the principles and practices that our organization strongly endorses, and which are reflected in the protection imperatives of the Refugee Convention and Protocol.

So how does this new status quo impact our operations?

In many ways, not at all.

Our commitments to refugee protection and to impartiality and non-partisanship must be steadfast, and my RI colleagues and I are deeply dedicated to ensure that remains the case. We will continue, as we must continue, to seek out allies of all political perspectives—from both major political parties, as well as from individuals who are members of neither.  

But when government statements and policies differ dramatically from broadly accepted refugee protection principles, we must speak out, loudly, clearly, soberly, and professionally. Through speaking out, RI aims to impact public discourse and public policy. In fact, because we receive no United Nations or government funding, we are well placed to play this role, and we have an obligation to do so.

Our belief in speaking out (loudly, clearly, soberly, and professionally) has informed our posture toward the current presidential administration’s statements and actions that have departed from refugee protection and other principles that RI endorses. For these reasons, we have spoken out about the demonization of refugees, about violations of U.S. obligations under the Refugee Convention and Protocol, about separation of families seeking asylum in the United States, and about other departures from the historical U.S. commitment to humanitarianism.

We will continue to advocate in this manner, and we look forward to hearing from our friends and our supporters as we navigate somewhat new territory for this organization.

Kind regards,


Eric Schwartz