Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Advocate for Refugees

Feel free to use the following template to compose a letter to your senator or representative:

Dear [Representative/Senator],

I believe that the practice of confining refugees to camps and segregated settlements and denying their basic human rights is wrong. Refugees should be free to exercise all the human rights in the 1951 Refugee Convention, which include freedom of movement, the right to work, the right to own property and basic education. Yet more than 7 million of the 12 million refugees in the world today are being warehoused. As the largest donor to agencies assisting refugees, the United States can do something about this problem.

As your constituent, I ask you to co-sponsor a congressional resolution to end refugee warehousing. The Senate has already introduced such a resolution, SRes 449, encouraging the protection of the rights of refugees. This resolution calls upon all countries to end the warehousing of refugees and urges the State Department to actively pursue models of refugee assistance that permit refugees to enjoy all the rights recognized in the Convention. A similar resolution will be introduced in the House of Representatives.

Last year the Bureau of Population, Migration and Refugees at the State Department spent $933 million in refugee assistance, the majority of which goes toward maintaining camp infrastructure and basic material assistance for refugees. This money is appropriated by Congress through the Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) and Emergency Migration and Refugee Assistance (ERMA) accounts in the Foreign Operations budget. A significant proportion of these accounts goes toward U.S. contributions to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Less than 1% of the funds from these accounts went toward the realization of refugee rights in the form of direct assistance to host countries or to innovative human rights protection programming. Please help shift the focus of how this money is currently being spent on confinement and dependency by moving the State Department and UNHCR toward a rights-based approach that promotes the freedom and self-sustainability of refugees.

Passing the congressional resolution against refugee warehousing is one step toward helping refugees live their lives in freedom and dignity. The next step is to hold those agencies receiving US funding through the refugee assistance accounts in the foreign operations budget accountable to the promotion and realization of refugee rights.

Thank you for your consideration of this most important issue. I look forward to learning what action you plan to take on this matter.


[Your name]

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