Human Rights and Refugees

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The United States has the moral obligation to work with the international community to aid vulnerable populations and defend human rights wherever they are threatened. For many, threats to basic human rights remain a constant presence in daily life. More than 43 million refugees have been displaced from their homes or separated from their communities and families across the globe. As the Ranking Democratic Member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), I am acutely aware of the challenges that many countries are facing and of the urgency need for the international community to address issues of violence, while helping foster freedom and tolerance.

Every minute, eight people are forced to leave everything behind and become refugees because of war and violence, environmental disasters, poverty, famine, or drought. The crisis in Syria is a stark reminder of the needs of refugees and those who have been displaced worldwide. Within Syria, almost 7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. On May 8, 2013, I sent a letter to President Barack Obama and then United Nations (UN) Ambassador Susan Rice calling for a no-fly zone in Syria, where over 100,000 civilians have been killed and nearly 2 million refugees have fled to seek safety in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Furthermore, on August 27, 2013, I sent a letter to National Security Advisor Rice, urging her to work with the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to establish training, capacity building, and aid delivery partnerships with Syrian relief organizations in order to assist those who are most vulnerable inside Syria.

The UN projects that the number of refugees will rise to 3.5 million by the end of 2013, and that as many as 4.25 million Syrians have been internally displaced. Human rights groups report that government fighter jets and helicopters have targeted hospitals, bakeries, and residential buildings, and the confirmed use of chemical weapons such as Sarin poison gas adds further urgency to the situation.

I believe that the United States must demonstrate true leadership to ensure that human rights are protected. As a nation, we dedicate about one percent of our annual budget to foreign aid, yet these modest investments literally mean the difference between life and death for hundreds of millions of people surviving on pennies a day. U.S. food assistance programs benefit nearly 10 million people worldwide, helping many nations meet the needs of their citizens, in turn allowing foreign governments to address other issues ranging from infrastructural deficiencies to civil liberties. By combating poverty and disease, providing humanitarian assistance, promoting human rights, and fostering economic development, these programs build a more stable and safer world, which in return helps ensure prosperity and security here at home.

As a Member of Congress, I have long been a strong advocate for global human rights and have supported legislation to put an end to ethnic persecution, human trafficking, violence against women, and child marriage. We must remain vigilant and proactive in protecting human rights, and I will continue to work tirelessly to support peace and security around the world. Our great nation’s foreign policy must be a reflection of our moral principles. I remain committed to promoting democracy and freedom while working to alleviate suffering abroad.

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