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Assistant secretary of state: US needs help from other countries in refugee resettlement

Julieta Valls Noyes spoke at ASU during Genocide Awareness Week

Woman speaking behind lectern at event
April 21, 2023

In 2022, the United States provided $17 billion in humanitarian relief around the world, accounting for 50% of the global response to crises.

“It was incredibly generous,” said Julieta Valls Noyes, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. “But it wasn’t enough. There are so many refugees and so many people in need.”

Valls Noyes made her remarks Thursday night as the featured speaker for Genocide Awareness Week, put on by Arizona State University’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The refugee crisis, Valls Noyes said, has reached historic proportions. In May 2022, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that more than 100 million people so far that year had been forced to flee their native countries due to persecution, conflict, human rights violations and events seriously disturbing public order. 

“We are confronting a terrible scourge that continues to plague our world, the issue that you’ve been discussing all week, and that’s genocide,” Valls Noyes said. “The United States government has categorically condemned and fought against genocide around the globe for decades.”

Since 1980, when the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program was created, the U.S. has admitted more than three million refugees, Valls Noyes said. But the horrors of genocide — and the refugee resettlements it creates — is a “sad chapter in the history books,” Valls Noyes said.

“People fleeing violence, persecution and genocide have been arriving on America’s shores for centuries,” she said. “From those early days of our nation, private American citizens have been working through their neighborhoods and their faith communities to respond to global atrocities by welcoming these victims of war and persecution and genocide to start new lives right here in America.”

Valls Noyes mentioned several of those atrocities, including the Holocaust, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Burma’s crimes of humanity against the Rohingya people and the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, which resulted in 85,000 Afghans resettling in U.S. communities over the next six months.

Just in the past few days, Valls Noyes said, she has been monitoring the situation in Sudan, where fighting has forced more than 30,000 people to leave the country and flee to Chad for safety.

Valls Noyes said the response to the events in Afghanistan from the U.S. and partnership agencies like the International Rescue Committee created the “single largest humanitarian airlift” since World War II.

She praised the “generous support” of ASU, which provided housing for 61 Afghan women.

“The Afghan relocation effort was the ultimate stress test for our resettlement infrastructure, but it was also an incubator,” Valls Noyes said. “The solutions that devised under those emergency situations and under those emergency conditions became an impetus for long-term innovations that will help us get closer to (President Joe Biden’s) ambitious refugee resettlement targets.”

Shortly after taking office, Biden announced a target of 125,000 refugee admissions for the 2022 budget year, which ended Sept. 30. The U.S. has yet to meet that goal, Valls Noyes said, but progress is being made.

Welcome Corps is a new service opportunity for Americans, through sponsor groups, to welcome refugee newcomers by securing and preparing initial housing, greeting refugee newcomers at the airport, enrolling children in school and helping adults to find employment.

“Welcome Corps is a direct link back to the community-centered origins of refugee resettlement in the United States,” Valls Noyes said. “It was private citizens and faith communities organizing their neighborhoods, not politicians or bureaucrats.”

Valls Noyes said she was “moved to tears” when she learned that one of the first sponsor groups to welcome Afghanistan refugees were Vietnamese American refugees and their descendants.

“What’s more, they thanked us for giving them the opportunity to repay the debt of gratitude they felt they owed to the United States for coming to their aid 50 years earlier when they and their families were forced to flee the ravages of the Vietnam War,” she said.

Valls Noyes intimately understood that desire to help. She said her parents came to the U.S. as refugees from Cuba following the rise of the (Fidel) Castro regime.

“Like others who I’ve mentioned today, they relied on the generosity of neighbors and community groups to start a new life in the United States,” she said. “Over 60 years later, my mom was by my side in Miami a few weeks ago, welcoming newly arrived refugees to what she told them was the greatest country in the world.”

Woman talking lecture attendees

Julieta Valls Noyes, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, chats with attendees following the Genocide Awareness Week keynote lecture at the Mirabella Auditorium at Arizona State University Thursday on April 20. Photo by Deanna Dent/Arizona State University

Following her speech, Valls Noyes answered several questions from the audience, both in person and online:

Question: What measures is the State Department taking to ensure equitable and fair access to resettlement programs for refugees and migrants from all backgrounds, including LGBTQI?

Answer: We recognize that these refugees need extra protection. We recognize, for example, that LGBTQI refugees, within a particular group of refugees, may be afraid to make public their sexual orientation based on the fact they could be revictimized within the refugee community itself. We have emphasized to our main referral partner, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, our desire to reach people with these particular vulnerabilities and our desire that they refer them to us for resettlement. We also are initiating a pilot program to give nongovernmental organizations the ability to refer specific groups of refugees to us.

Q: What is the most significant gap in the current network of institutions offering refugee resettlement?

A: I think the biggest gap right now is scale. There’s just so many people in need, and there are a limited number of people who can resettle in this country. We have a limited amount of resources to be able to do it, although we’re incredibly generous. Frankly, I think other countries need to do more.

Q: How is the State Department collaborating with other government agencies and international organizations to address the root causes of displacement migration?

A: We work very closely with other countries and other partners to try to address those root causes so that people no longer need to leave their countries, or if they’ve left, they can return. It’s a longer-term effort. It’s a more complicated effort, but it’s absolutely worth doing because we cannot continue the way that we are. There just aren’t enough resources, and the needs are growing every year. So, we have to get creative, we have to be determined, and we have to really work with other countries and other partners and talk about responsibility sharing, diplomacy, development and advocacy. There are lots and lots of pieces to this puzzle, and we’re trying to do all of them at the same time. 

Top photo: Julieta Valls Noyes, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, speaks to attendees of the Genocide Awareness Week keynote lecture at the Mirabella Auditorium at Arizona State University on April 20. Photo by Deanna Dent/Arizona State University

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