The Trump Administration’s recently released FY18 budget proposal calls for drastic cuts in the funding of the Department of State and the Agency for International Development (USAID), totaling 31 percent from current levels. This reduction in funding for international humanitarian agencies instead diverts resources to military spending. If adopted as written, this budget would have the gravest consequences for the well-being – even the survival – of millions of the world’s refugees.
Coming during the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, at a time when the world is struggling to protect and assist more than 65 million people displaced by conflict, natural disaster and persecution, this budget threatens a dramatic departure from the proud American tradition as a leader in humanitarian action on behalf of those less fortunate than ourselves. Furthermore, by increasing human misery, adding fuel to the fires of conflict, and creating incentives for further desperate flight, a reduction in this American commitment could well have a cascading effect that would increase worldwide displacement to yet more terrible levels.
U.S. humanitarian funding makes a vital contribution to the operations of such humanitarian organizations as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), UNICEF, and the World Food Program, and helps sustain millions of refugee lives every day, a fact which the Administration fails to recognize. Furthermore, cuts to development assistance, by both international organizations such as the World Bank and U.S. governmental agencies such as USAID, would also threaten the long-term well-being of refugees by eliminating programs that help refugee hosting countries and support refugee education and employment, the twin foundations that help refugees to reach self-sufficiency.
U.S. foreign assistance, especially that directed toward refugees and internally displaced persons, has always had broad bipartisan support from the American people and their representatives in Congress. We are encouraged that the continuing outpouring of generosity from American supporters of organizations such as Jesuit Refugee Service/USA during this crisis demonstrates that this is still very much the case. During this challenging time, JRS will redouble its efforts to serve refugees both through our programs and by impressing upon Congress and the Administration that helping refugees is a moral imperative and in our national interest.
Military might is not, and can never be, a substitute for diplomacy and compassion. “A country as strong as the United States needs to show the world not just its power, but its heart,” said Fr. Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., Interim Executive Director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA. Representing less than 1 percent of the U.S. budget, foreign assistance is not charity but wise diplomacy. It is essential to saving lives, and building a better world not just for refugees, but for us all.