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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 August 2018

US Bureau of Refugees threatened with closure

A letter by prominent ex-US officials is urging Mike Pompeo to keep the bureau open

Keep the Bureau of Refugees open, open letter by ex-US official urges Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Reuters
Keep the Bureau of Refugees open, open letter by ex-US official urges Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Reuters

A 25-year-old bureau that oversees major US humanitarian operations for refugees abroad is facing the threat of a shutdown as the Trump administration seeks to reorganise and cut the State Department budget, prompting ex-diplomats to sign a letter urging to keep it open.

The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), established in 1993 with an almost $3.4 billion annual budget could be eliminated according to a letter signed by 32 former US diplomats and 11 organisations. The letter, obtained by NGO Refugees International, is addressed to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with copies sent to Congressional committees that approve the bureau’s work.

“We understand you may shortly be considering the status of PRM and we are deeply concerned by recent reports that the Bureau may be eliminated,” the signatories wrote.

The letter is signed by former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, Ambassador Ryan Croker, former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Ann Richard, and other former State Department officials.

Closure of the bureau “would be an error of grave proportion,” they wrote. “We would urge close consultation with the US Congress before such a critically important measure is even considered.”

A State Department official from PRM was not immediately available for comment.

Closing the bureau is part of Trump administration vision to reorganise and slash funds for the State Department. The bureau works directly with UN and multilateral organisations abroad that offer aid to refugees and migrants.

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The letter emphasises the importance of bipartisan US support for refugees overseas. “The support for the overseas role has always been bipartisan...and now it’s being politicised,” said Sarah Magron, the Washington Director for Human Rights Watch.

The administration of US President Donald Trump has admitted the lowest number of refugees in the program's 43-year history with only 10,548 refugees admitted since October 1, 2017, according to ABC news.

Threatening to close the PRM is driving concerns “that the what historically has been a bipartisan humanitarian issue, is becoming a political football” Ms Magron said. The battle, she argued, is between the head of the Office of Management and Budget Bureau Mike Mulvaney, and the State Department’s Mr Pompeo.

Mr Pompeo’s predecessor Rex Tillerson was able to push back against closing the bureau last year.

“We are witnessing an internal political battle over a bureau whose work has been critical for US humanitarian work, anchoring support for multilateral organisations and affording the US certain measure of leverage” Ms Magron said.

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