Deputy Assistant Secretary Catherine Wiesner’s Remarks on International Migrants Day

Today, on International Migrants Day, we pay tribute to those who venture abroad in search of safety, dignity, and a better life.

Refugee and migration crises have captured the attention of the world this year. In recent months, we have witnessed migrants packed into flimsy rubber dinghies, parents passing young babies over barbed wire, and entire families trekking unimaginable distances.

Whether they are escaping war, poverty, or simply seeking opportunity and a better life for their children, the quests on which migrant embark can benefit everyone, from families back home that rely on their earnings, to employers abroad who need their energy and skill. In fact, the remittances that migrants send home provide more resources to many of the world’s poorest nations than official development assistance does. And in countries with labor shortages or aging populations, migrants can propel economies forward.

The vast majority of the more than 200 million people who migrate each year make the trip legally. But for many others legal channels aren’t accessible. So they make difficult decisions to travel without documents, and live and work in the shadows, vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Migrants who attempt perilous journeys have been detained, tortured, or kidnapped. This year alone, more than 3600 men, women and children died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Regardless of their legal status, all deserve to be protected and treated humanely. And all countries should help, not just the ones next door.

The United States provides more humanitarian aid to refugees and vulnerable migrants than any other nation, working with the United Nations Refugee Agency, the International Organization for Migration, and many others. When my colleagues and I visit the programs that we fund, we meet people harboring the same dreams that brought generations of migrants to our own country. Migrants with nothing but the clothes on their back came here and reinvented themselves. Their daring, their striving, and their freedom to imagine a different future has fueled our prosperity and forged our identity. Drawing strength from this history and reaffirming who we are, let us never lose sight of our simple duty to reach out to help other human beings in their greatest hour of need. Thank you.