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"Everywhere we look in the world, [due to] conflict, famine, disease, the economy – we have refugees. It is a very complex issue," said Hillary Rodham Clinton in January during her confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
"We have refugee populations, some of decades-long standing and some of a few days standing, in so many places. ... I will do my very best to elevate this issue, we're going to make this a high priority, and ... come up with solutions to some of our long-standing refugee challenges."
According to Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Eric Schwartz, some 42 million people around the world have been uprooted by conflict and persecution. Women and children comprise the majority of these highly vulnerable populations. 16 million of the displaced are refugees outside of their countries, while 26 million have sought refuge inside their countries.
In addition, last year more than 235,000 people were killed and 214 million affected by natural disasters, with an economic cost estimated at 190 billion dollars. Those figures are far higher than the average for the past few years.
The total U.S. contribution to global humanitarian efforts for 2009 had previously been estimated at about $4.5 billion, not including aid efforts by the U.S. military. And on August 19th, Assistant Secretary of State Schwartz announced additional U.S. funding to support international humanitarian assistance and protection efforts, as well as work to create conditions for sustainable recovery. "We have a moral imperative to save lives," said Assistant Secretary of State Schwartz:
"If there’s an international humanitarian crisis anywhere in the world, the resources of the United States, of the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the civilian resources of the United States, in one way or another, is likely to be there in support of protection of victims."
U.S. humanitarian efforts are focused on more than just the crises that make news headlines, said Assistant Secretary of State Schwartz. "That’s not what humanitarians are supposed to do, and it’s not what we do. We try to keep our attention focused anywhere in the world where large numbers of people are suffering and the dimensions of the crisis require some degree of international engagement."