Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a UN Security Council Briefing by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
December 7, 2021


Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you High Commissioner Grandi for your frank and sobering briefing on the worldwide refugee situation. Your office has our unwavering support. We appreciate the dedication of your teams and other humanitarian workers as much now as ever. I also welcome Norway’s Foreign Minister for joining us here today.

Recently, I saw firsthand the amazing work your teams do on my trip to Jordan last month, where I visited the Zaatari refugee camp, home to nearly 80,000 Syrian refugees. What I heard and saw is a microcosm of today’s refugee landscape of 84 million refugees. Countries like Jordan have opened their doors with compassion to provide protection from the Assad regime’s senseless brutality. We are inspired and grateful for Jordan’s generosity, as well as many others in the world who have welcomed the largest refugee population since World War II.

I was impressed by how UNHCR and others are integrating the latest technology in refugee camps. At Zaatari, I saw cash credits used at a WFP supermarket which ensures shopping is done with dignity, a solar grid, which will ensure kids have electricity to study, and a centralized water system run by UNICEF, which provides families with clean water and sanitary living conditions. These programs represent major progress from what I used to see at the Dadaab refugee camp in the 1990s where Kenya has generously hosted refugees for more than two decades. I hope that this standard that I saw in Zaatari will not be an exception, but a rule for UNHCR and moving forward.

In Zaatari, I was invited into the home of Nadia, a widow from the war in Syria. An inspiring single mother of 11 children, Nadia shared her harrowing story of fleeing the conflict and her years-long struggle to rebuild her life in a refugee camp. The livelihood program at the camp, which we supported, empowered her to establish a successful tailoring business.

And today, I’m wearing a scarf that she gave me embroidered with my name. This scarf reminds me of our collective obligation to Nadia, and particularly to her children. Nadia told me that she works every day to make her children proud. She, actually, should be proud that she makes all of us proud. Many of the children in Zaatari have grown up knowing nothing beyond ten years of war and displacement. But the children I met still have dreams and they still have hopes. The international community must build programs that support their integration into host countries so that they can achieve their dreams.

Finally, I heard over and over that no one felt safe returning to Syria. They feared what might happen if they were forced back. I promised I would use my platform in New York to tell the world we will continue to protect them and we will remain vigilant in ensuring any return is safe, voluntary, and dignified.

As we work together to address the Syrian refugee crisis, we must also unite on the situations in Venezuela and Afghanistan and Ethiopia, to name just a few. We continue to support UN agencies and other humanitarian partners to reach Venezuelans in need of aid. And we are working with UNHCR to promote humane migration policies which will address the factors driving irregular migration. After the United States and our partners evacuated thousands of Afghans who feared for their lives as part of one of the biggest airlifts in history, we must continue to support Afghan refugees in every way possible. On Ethiopia, the humanitarian situation continues to worry us. And, High Commissioner, we appreciate your points concerning protection, access, assistance, and the need for a political solution.

No matter where you come from, the COVID-19 pandemic remains a serious threat to refugees and IDPs everywhere. The work host countries do to provide vaccines and support is so important. For our part, in partnership with COVAX, the United States is committed to donating 1.2 billion doses of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines to the world by 2022. In 2021, we provided nearly 215 million dollars to UNHCR to fight COVID. We will continue to share doses, scale manufacturing, and invest in vaccines abroad. We thank other Member States for their commitments and urge everyone to step up even more so that we can overcome this pandemic together.

America stands as a beacon of liberty and refuge to the world’s most vulnerable. We have resettled more refugees than any other country. And in October, President Biden raised our annual ceiling refugee admissions cap to 125,000. We will always support forcibly displaced populations. And we remain committed to the vital work of UNHCR and its partners that supported these populations. Thank you very much, Mr. President.