Department Officials #EngageAmerica on the Global Refugee Crisis

Last week, Montgomery College and George Mason University students were taken by surprise when Secretary of State John Kerry dropped by to welcome them to the State Department and observe a diplomatic simulation on refugees and forced displacement hosted by the U.S Diplomacy Center. Later the same day, the Secretary was joined by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Special Envoy Angelina Jolie Pitt and Assistant Secretary of State Anne C. Richard to meet with a group of State Department employees who are former refugees or the children of refugees. The participants shared their individual histories with the Secretary and Ms. Jolie Pitt, emphasizing how their personal experiences informed their decision to serve their country.

Later that evening, at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) center in Sterling, Virginia, Secretary Kerry, Special Envoy Jolie Pitt, Assistant Secretary Richard, and Special Representative to Muslim Communities Shaarik Zafar attended an interfaith Iftar reception to meet with met with interfaith leaders, social service leaders, and refugees who have resettled in the United States. Speaking about the global refugee crisis, the Secretary took the opportunity to stress that “a huge effort is being made to respond to this crisis, but I have to tell you my friends, all of our efforts still fall short of the need. Every nation, every sector, every individual has a responsibility to try to do more,” because, “the refugee story, at its heart, is not about statistics. It’s about people.”

These are just a few of several events the State Department and Administration officials participated in to observe the importance of World Refugee Day and remind Americans of the valuable contributions refugees make to communities across the country. Ambassador Samantha Power attended a photo exhibit event at the New York Public Library where she discussed the significant and lasting contributions refugees make to their new communities and reiterated the importance of the human element of  the public discourse on refugees. Deputy Secretary Antony Blinken attended a naturalization ceremony at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., where he welcomed some of America’s newest citizens and reflected on the perils and losses they, like many before them, have endured along the way. In a touching tribute to his own family’s history fleeing persecution, Deputy Secretary Blinken challenged these new Americans and all of us: “We are meant to continue the work of those who came before us and build a nation that better reflects the values, honors the diversity, and lives up to the aspirations of every single one of its citizens.”

As a lead up to World Refugee Day on June 20, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration Anne Richard, spoke with refugees in Baltimore at a World Refugee Day event sponsored by representatives of the local community.  Joined by the Mayor and speaking to the true diversity of American cities, the Assistant Secretary conveyed her deep, heartfelt appreciation to the community for their exemplary support for refugees and encouraged other cities to emulate Baltimore in their efforts to help refugees find vibrant and successful lives in their new homes.

Deputy Secretary Higginbottom participated in a public service announcement campaign which highlighted the strength and importance of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and the positive impact refugees have on the communities into which they enter. In nearly twenty different media engagements across the country from Seattle to Chicago Deputy Secretary Higginbottom answered questions about the United States’ proud tradition of refugee resettlement and reinforced the Department’s commitment to offering the world’s most vulnerable safety from persecution and violence.

And just this week Ambassador Power spoke at the United State Institute of Peace about the need to overcome fears surrounding the global refugee crisis and spur action. During her address Ambassador Power said, “We are in the midst of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War. Just like the people at the heart of it, this crisis crosses borders, oceans, and continents. And because it is global in scale, anything less than a global response will fall short of addressing it.” Deputy Secretary Blinken echoes these sentiments while speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies where he noted the global challenges we face, including migration and refugee flows, do not stop at borders or distinguish by nationality. Deputy Secretary Blinken suggested that they instead demand “fundamentally new solutions informed by the tools, the expertise, the imagination of a wide range of partners.”

A number of other high-level State Department officials engaged in a variety of ways –- from penning articles to meeting with student groups to facilitating discussions with think tanks -– to demonstrate support for refugees. All these efforts underscore the Obama Administration and the State Department’s commitment to strengthening the global response to the refugee crises and to informing and engaging Americans as partners in foreign affairs. This commitment is further exemplified by President Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, to be held on September 20, 2016 on the margins of the UN General Assembly, bringing together leaders of member states prepared to make new and significant pledges to help address refugees’ most urgent needs. Just as nations around the world have responded to the crisis and have a responsibility to do more, everyday Americans are stepping up by donating to international humanitarian organizations offering assistance abroad, volunteering at local refugee-serving organizations, and extending a hand to refugees resettling in the United States. This effort reinforces Secretary Kerry’s critical observation that the refugee story, at its heart, is about people –- mothers, daughters, sons, and fathers-- who like many American families yearn to live in peace and security and work towards a better future for themselves, their families and their community.

About the Author: Karen Richardson serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Outreach in the Bureau of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

For more information:



Helal I.
July 1, 2016
America go ahead their running refugees plans.
Erin F.
United States
October 3, 2016
When Samantha Power said that "“We are in the midst of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War," she must have felt a certain glow of pride for her pivotal role in creating that crisis.
Secretary Kerry and UNHCR Special Envoy Jolie Pitt Prepare to Address the Press on World Refugee Day in Washington [State Department Photo]
Posted by Karen Richardson
June 30, 2016


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