U.S. Heads Public-Private Fund To Aid Refugee Women, Children

By David Anthony Denny
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – The State Department is creating a new fund, to which private citizens and businesses can donate, to address the critical needs of refugee women and children.

Scheduled to be launched on June 20, World Refugee Day 2007, the International Fund for Refugee Women and Children is a partnership between the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) and the private sector.  It aims to deliver critical assistance to women and children refugees since they make up the majority of refugees fleeing violence and civil unrest.

The U.S. government has its own funds to help refugees.  It has appropriated $500 million annually to help refugees survive, and an average of $300 million annually to help resettle refugees permanently in the United States.  But government funding is devoted to the immediate survival needs of refugees, and often the long-term needs are overlooked in the competition for limited resources.  U.S. government funds are targeted especially toward the critical first 90 days of a refugee-causing crisis.  That is when the basic necessities for survival - shelter, food and water - are most vital, and local conditions frequently chaotic.  But most crises continue beyond 90 days.

Assistant Secretary Ellen Sauerbrey, who manages the State Department’s PRM Bureau and who conceived of the fund for private donations, said:  “Refugees have typically been driven out of their homeland, lost their homes and beloved family members; they shouldn’t also have to lose their future and their children’s future.”  Education will be a key component of fund activities, she said.

Because of civil unrest and turmoil, many refugees are illiterate and their children cannot go to school, either.  This fund will seek projects that address basic education and vocational training.


The fund will offer individuals, corporations, and foundations a safe, easy and efficient way to give money.  The State Department knows what and where the needs are for refugees, and especially where the gaps are in providing essential aid. The department also has extensive experience in humanitarian aid and it has the wherewithal to monitor and evaluate an assistance project.  Funds collected will go to PRM's regular implementing partners, such as Save the Children, World Vision and other respected humanitarian assistance organizations, that are already on the ground.  PRM officials envision making these new, private funds add-ons to existing agreements, eliminating an additional administrative cost. 

The new fund is intended to address refugee plight after the first 90 days.  For instance:  Are the children in school?  Are the women safe from further violence, and are they being given useful skills to help them care for their families now and to help support their families after the crisis ends?  Too often, refugees spend years in camps outside their homeland before they can return home.

There are examples of past efforts in this area. The International Rescue Committee, partnering with the State Department, organized teacher training for Liberian refugees while they were in refugee camps in Guinea and Sierra Leone.  After 14 years of civil conflict, refugees now are returning home.  Among the first to return are the teachers trained by the Rescue Committee, whose task will be to help build a bright future for Liberia’s children.


This new fund will target three priorities for refugee women and children:

• Protection:  Women and girl refugees are frequently at risk for rape or capture into slavery.  For example, women refugees in Darfur are often raped while outside their camps seeking firewood.

• Education:  Teaching refugee children to read, write and count creates a generation of literate people capable of leading recovery and rebuilding efforts in their homelands.  In the immediate term, it makes children less vulnerable to combatants who frequently seek to recruit boys as soldiers and to those who seek girls to rape and exploit.  (See related article.)

• Useful Skills:  Literate mothers have the skills to continue their children’s education when they are not in school and to learn better methods for caring for their families’ health, hygiene and nutrition.  Widows and single mothers, especially, need useful, work-related skills to support their families.  Educating mothers allows their whole families to have a hopeful future.  (See related article.)

More information about the International Fund for Refugee Women and Children is available on the State Department Web site.

For further information about U.S. refugee policy, see Humanitarian Assistance and Refugees.