Tue, 12/14/2010 - 12:52
Washington, DC – Refugees International is shocked and saddened over the death of Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, a close friend to the organization and leader for displaced people around the world. Ambassador Holbrooke served as chair of Refugees International from 1996 to 1999, where he helped grow Refugees International into the leading advocacy organization for refugees that it is today, and was a member of RI’s board of directors for eleven years. Holbrooke was an indefatigable advocate who focused his tireless energy on pursuing peace and protecting the world’s vulnerable people.
“Whether in Southeast Asia, the Balkans or Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke bullied his way past tyrants, bureaucrats and military generals to bring an end to wars and displacement,” said Michel Gabaudan, president of Refugees International. “Ambassador Holbrooke never took no for an answer when it came to protecting even a single individual. We are sincerely saddened to have lost this legend in the Refugees International family.”
As the President’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2009, Richard Holbrooke was deeply committed to the people of the region while he navigated today’s most challenging foreign policy issues. He traveled through crowded tent cities to meet personally with those displaced by conflict and natural disasters and listen to their needs. In 2009, when some three million people were displaced by military operations in Pakistan, Holbrooke met directly with non-governmental organizations, including Refugees International, to hear all perspectives on how best to respond. He secured hundreds of millions of dollars for the relief effort not only from the U.S. government but also from European and Gulf countries whom he lobbied relentlessly.
In 2010, when massive flooding struck Pakistan affecting approximately 20 million people, he again was faced with an enormous humanitarian crisis and worked with Administration officials and the Congress to shift funding where it was most desperately needed. He also increased U.S. funding to local Afghan and Pakistani aid agencies, as he believed that this would strengthen the ability of local communities to help themselves instead of relying on outside aid organizations.
Richard Holbrooke was best known as the chief architect of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia. But his efforts to support displaced people in the Balkans and around the world were often under the radar. While U.S. Ambassador to Germany in 1992, he snuck into Sarajevo at night to see first-hand the plight of those who were living under siege. In 1977, Holbrooke led the effort to stimulate Congressional support for the acceptance of some 50,000 Indochinese refugees fleeing the conflicts in Southeast Asia. While U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 1999 to 2001, he saw the gaps in response to internally displaced people who were not receiving the same protection as refugees. He single-handedly put the issue on the UN agenda making this population a larger priority for the international community.
“The world has lost a master strategist who effectively championed peace and never lost sight of the people he was working for,” said Mr. Gabaudan. “An increased commitment by the Obama Administration to humanitarian programs and strengthened civilian leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan would be a fitting tribute to his legacy.”
Refugees International is a Washington, DC-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises and receives no government or UN funding. For more information, go to www.refugeesinternational.org.