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Government Agency News Press release

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES:  Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary, Hamdi, Abdul, colleagues, and guests.  It is a great pleasure to be here today and welcome you all on this wonderful occasion when the room is so beautifully decorated.

My name is Julieta Valls Noyes and I’m Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration.  Our bureau leads humanitarian assistance and humanitarian diplomacy at the State Department, and we administer the United States’ generous assistance provided by American taxpayers and appropriated by our Congress.

This humanitarian aid saves lives and alleviates suffering, and upholds human dignity for tens of millions of forcibly displaced persons, crisis-affected people around the world, including refugees, victims of conflict, stateless persons, and vulnerable migrants.  As a career Foreign Service officer, I am so proud to lead the many talented professionals in our bureau, and as the daughter of refuges myself, I am humbled by this responsibility.

For both professional and personal reasons, I am so proud of the initiative that we’re here to launch today.

Mr. Secretary, I would like to introduce Hamdi Ulukaya.  As many people know, Hamdi, who hails from Turkey, founded Chobani in 2005 with the mission of making better food accessible to more people while improving local conditions.  Hamdi is also a devoted philanthropist, and he founded the Tent Partnership for Refugees in 2016.  Under his leadership and supported by his team’s dedication in the years since, Tent’s network today now tops 300 companies.  They are all committed to providing tens of thousands of refugees with work, training, and mentorship opportunities in order to improve their economic security and facilitate their integration into our country and other countries.

When Hamdi and I first met this past summer, we shared a vision of advancing the potential and the possibility of refugees worldwide by harnessing their talents and their dedication through private sector opportunities.  This new partnership will capitalize on our mutual vision and capabilities, and it’s been months in the making and I am so excited to see where it will lead us.

I’d also like to introduce Mr. Abdul Nasir Rahimi.  I had the great pleasure of meeting Abdul in New York at Tent’s summit for business on the margins of the UN General Assembly in September.  His story is only one of those that have been impacted by Tent’s work and the commitments of its member businesses, and I’m so happy he could be here today.  I’m happy to see you again, Abdul.

And without further ado, Mr. Secretary, the floor is yours.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Well, Julieta, thank you so much.  Thank you for the introduction, but especially thank you for the work that you and your amazing team are doing every single day to stand for and to stand with those who are persecuted and forcibly displaced from their homes.

This work is incredibly important to the department, it’s incredibly important to me on a personal level as well, and I’m grateful beyond words for the work that’s being done every single day here in Washington but also around the world.

Hamdi and I actually know each other.  We – and I go back to 2016 when Tent was founded.  It’s a remarkable thing because Hamdi’s vision – but not just vision, the ability to bring this to life – has been incredibly powerful.  But so has – and we were just talking about this – so has his dedication, because this goes back to 2016.  I remember well on the margins of the UN General Assembly with President Obama the – many of the companies that were founding members of Tent came together.  But the dedication and the drive to mobilize the power of the business community to create genuinely life-changing opportunities, economic security for refugees worldwide, is making a profound difference in life after life after life, and it’s the sticking with it that is almost as powerful as anything else.  It’s easy to – might have been easy to fold the tent, but no.  (Laughter.)

This year, as you all know, we have hit around the world what is truly a sobering milestone:  We now have more than 100 million people, for the first time in recorded history, forcibly on the move from their homes.  Of those 100 million or so, about 35 million people are refugees or asylum seekers.  And more than a million are children born as refugees.

They have gone through incredibly difficult ordeals.  But one of the things that we all know is that the journey isn’t over even when they arrive at the destination.

Finding a home.  Learning a language.  Seeking a job.  Getting kids into school.  Building community.  All of these steps are essential for refugees to build new lives in new lands.

The United States is committed to supporting them.

Around the world, we are the single largest provider of humanitarian assistance to people in need.  In just the last year, the State Department alone has provided billions of dollars in assistance for refugees, including $2.2 billion to the UN Refugee Agency.

Here at home, the Biden administration has made it a priority to expand and modernize our refugee admissions program, including by raising our annual admissions target to 125,000 people a year – that’s more than eight times what it was just a few years ago.  And we’re working toward that goal.  I wish it were like flipping a light switch, but a lot of work has to go into getting us back and beyond where we were.

We’re also assisting Ukrainians and Afghans who’ve fled their countries and sought safety here in the United States – in part by collaborating with Welcome.US, an organization that’s mobilizing American citizens and businesses to support our new neighbors.

In all we do, we know that we can best and most effectively help refugees when we work alongside partners.

This is a task, this is a responsibility – more than a responsibility, also a profound opportunity – that no single institution or entity can effectively take on alone, including the U.S. Government.  And that is one of the main ideas behind the United Nations Global Compact on Refugees.  By partnering with the private sector – and also with civil society, with international organizations, with other groups – governments can do more and do better in their support of refugees and asylum seekers.

Today, the United States and Tent are bringing that spirit of collaboration to a new memorandum of understanding that we’re about to sign.  We’ve both made commitments toward the goals of the compact; now we’ll partner to build upon one of those pledges: expanding economic opportunity for refugees outside of the United States.  We’ll help create platforms for others – including the private sector – so that they can be part of this work.

Over the next couple of years, Tent, the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration will support companies that hire refugees abroad.  Tent will help companies directly, for example, by offering guidance on employment laws.  Here at State, we’ll support Tent, sharing our expertise, working together to engage other governments, international organizations, so that we can help reduce barriers to employment for refugees and continue strengthening a global coalition to support them.

As I’ve gone around over the years and met with refugees in many, many other countries, it’s almost palpable:  Sometimes you’ll be in a room and you’ll have women who are there, and they are so focused on making sure that their children are cared for and properly integrated, and of course that goes with getting them into school.  And there’s almost a palpable anxiety but also energy that you feel.

The men sometimes – I’ve found in my experience – are initially almost depressed, and it goes to something that I think is equally profound, and that is the desire to be productive members of the communities that they’re joining.  And that’s the essence of dignity.  When they don’t have an opportunity to work, when they don’t have an opportunity to provide for their families, when they don’t have an opportunity to be productive members of these communities, they feel it powerfully and it really does go to the sense of dignity that’s so important to every single human being.

And so the opportunity to make sure that refugees coming in can find gainful employment can actually add, contribute to their communities, which we see powerfully around the world.  That is fundamentally important.

Now, one of the things that I’ve also found incredibly powerful when you happen to also meet with the children, separately, is they’re children.  (Laughter.)  And they still have that incredible optimism, hope that comes with being that age, and that is in and of itself an incredibly powerful resource.

Doing all of this is the right thing to do, but it’s also the smart thing to do.

We know refugees have extraordinary talents, expertise, ideas that benefit companies, that benefit communities.

In fact, we know – again, from experience – that the most driven, energetic, determined, strong people on Earth tend to be refugees because everything they’ve had to go through to get to where they are is evidence of that strength, evidence of that opportunity to contribute.  And we see that here in the United States day in, day out.

So one example, one exemplar of this is Abdul Nasir Rahimi.  He worked with the United States military as a translator and cultural advisor in Afghanistan before he fled the Taliban.  This year, he and his family moved to Virginia, where he got a job with Hilton – which happens to be a member of the Tent Partnership.  Hilton recognized Abdul’s skills and experience made him an ideal fit to oversee the security of their customers in McLean, where I happen to live – so they hired him.

Abdul, thank you, thank you, thank you for working alongside our troops.  Thank you for joining us today.  And thank you for sharing more about your experience, which we’re eager to hear.

But let me just say in conclusion, with this new memorandum of understanding, we will help begin more stories like Abdul’s, overseas, in countries around the world.

Finally, Hamdi, let me just say again, thank you for this partnership.  Thank you for beginning a new chapter in the partnership.  I’m very much looking forward to the work that the department and Tent will do together in the years ahead.

So with that, my friend, the floor is yours.

MR ULUKAYA:  Mr. Secretary, thank you so much.  This is a moment that we will never forget, and it’s an honor to be with you.  And I’ll be very brief.  If you pick the most important points that Mr. Secretary made, is the most important moment for a refugee is the moment they get a job.  And that’s the moment they stop being a refugee.  And I saw that when I was running my factory in upstate New York and when we hired refugees to come into our factories, and I saw right there alive how their life has changed and how they evolve and how it affected their families and children.  And I didn’t even know it back then that this was a refugee work.  I thought that was just a community work, that people within the communities need to be hired.

Later on when I visited the UNHCR and some other refugee organizations, I realized the absence of business – and connecting back to my experience in our plant in upstate New York, how important job is.  I said if I can take this model and try to convince companies to give a chance for refugees to be with them and see what the result is, and thus the idea was Tent.  But it wasn’t until 2016, when Secretary mentioned that we met with President Obama and Vice President Biden and some other businesses and some other organizations, that gave me that initial light to take Tent to the next level.

The convincing of the business community that this is good for the business, not only for these refugees but this is also good for the business, dives into the studies – economic studies and examples.  It took us a while to get there.  But also how this work is extremely important for communities, and we can name a couple of communities that I am familiar with – Twin Falls, Idaho; Utica, New York; and all across the country – bringing them all together and the passion that people have in this country that work in these companies that opening door to help refugees, and also the consumer rewarding companies that having this kind of consciousness of helping people who have desperately need.  This connection was made because I have this most amazing team at Tent led by Gideon and Scarlet and all the smart and passionate people, and some of them here.

That we work every single morning and making those calls and making those connections and understanding what the obstacles are and how we can remove, and reach out to our colleagues and all those businesses and see how we can get together and solve these problems.

Mr. Secretary, as you know – and Assistant Secretary Noyes joined – the last event we had, we had 45 companies committing over 20,000 jobs in the United States.  And I must tell you, those moments to lead into that summit, it was one of the most beautiful moments of my life where we had these connections with the companies and coming and reaching out and willing to help in all dimensions, and CEOs and head of HRs.

American companies are leading the way again.  And I was amazed that this example of willingness to help refugees but also help themself, if we can take it to the rest of the world, how would that mean?  It’s another leadership that America and American companies are playing.  With this effort, sir, we’ll take this knowledge – we already opened our office all across the Europe; we have reached out to Mexico; we are going to all the corners of the country and take this example, and encouraging and helping companies to hire refugees, and not only affect their families but also their businesses and their communities.

We want to thank you and your team, and of course Under Secretary Noyes, thank you so much, Assistant Secretary, for your passions and for your work.  And we will make you proud, and we will – (laughter) – we will continue to work on this every single day.

And with that, I’ll leave the podium for my friend, Abdul.  (Applause.)

MR RAHIMI:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary.  My name is Abdul Nasir Rahimi and I am the safety and security manager working with the Hilton McLean.  I would like to mention, I am that Abdul that President Biden mentioned my name in a press conference and he said we’re going to get you out of Afghanistan last year, I guess ’20.  And I’m here with my three kids and with my wife.

Our journey was frightening.  (Applause.)  Our journey was frightening, and our lives completely changed in two, three weeks in the USA.  And spending months on military bases in New Jersey and in Qatar, and then resettling in Virginia as we begin our new life in Virginia, many people helped me a lot, my American friends.  And thank you.

And I attended a job fair where I met the team from Hilton McLean there.  And for the first time, they offered me a supervisor.  And with this – an interview, and they offered me as a safety and security manager position.  This has changed my life.  I love the opportunity that I see there every day, the work that the organizations like Tent and Hamdi – sir, thank you so much – and the companies like Hilton are doing together is so important for the refugees.  The focus they have put on connecting refugees to work, to hiring, training, and mentoring is making a difference.  It’s empowering more and more refugees around the world to build lives, discover opportunity and hope, and support their own communities along the way.

I am honored and grateful to be part of this moment.  By coming together through this initiative to provide opportunities, companies will be able to support refugees both in USA and around the world in even greater numbers and go and change the lives of the refugees or other people.  And thank you for everything that you guys did for me.  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES:  Mr. Secretary, Mr. Ulukaya, would you like to proceed to the table for the signing?

(The MOU was signed.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Now it’s official.  (Applause.)  Well done.  Thank you.  Thanks, everyone.  Thank you all for being here, and we really are grateful for this partnership and looking forward to making a real difference in the lives of others.  Thank you.

MR ULUKAYA:  (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  All right.  Thanks, everyone.  Good to see you. Press release Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a Signing Ceremony for a New Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) With the Tent Partnership for Refugees Government Agency News