Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Break the Official Silence about Not Doing Enough for Syrian Refugees


The power of the printed word and photos about Syrian refugees graphically remind me of "the refugee decade" in which I was centrally involved. It covered Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Central America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, South Asia, and the USSR from the mid-1970s into much of the 1980s. 

Since those times, refugee numbers have grown beyond imagining. In recent years, Washington Post pages have focused on Syria, an on-going producer of refugees. The Post's opinion articles have included impassioned calls for heightened public awareness and international response to the dire and increasing needs of Syrian refugees. More than ever, Syrian citizens and their neighbors in the region feel overwhelmed by dangers, needs, and the rising numbers. 

In a recent (April 19, 2015) opinion column, Who Cares about Syria, Valerie Amos, then U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, reported on "ordinary Syrians who are suffering...bombed out of their homes, tortured, abused and denied food, water and health care."

Ms. Amos championed the cause of Syrian citizens that were promised protection by their government only to be abandoned to an imperiled and uncertain fate. She has visited Syrian refugees numerous times in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Turkey, countries where they have received asylum.

"During every visit," she wrote, "I was asked the same thing: Why has the world abandoned us? Why does nobody care?"

These question are directed, wrote Valerie Amos, "at our leaders, perhaps particularly at the permanent members of the Security Council," where the U.S. is a member.

One view expressed by Ms. Amos is that "narrow national interests are overriding broader global responsibilities, despite the efforts of the U.N. secretary general’s three special envoys to chart a way out of the crisis."

The Syrian government continues to speak about citizen protection while ignoring pleas to "stop targeting civilians and discontinue the use of so-called 'barrel bombs'," according to Amos's reporting. 

The UN cites the fact of the world now feeling overwhelmed by global refugee crises in numbers never experienced before. That's according to Antonio Guterres, the deeply concerned UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

More than a year before Ms. Amos's commentary in the Washington Post, "Unattended Misery: Americans Remain Strikingly Detached from the Humanitarian Crisis in Syria" (December 6, 2013) raised another alarm. Written by revered former U.S. ambassador and foreign service officer, Morton Abramowitz, the article also appeared in West Hawaii Today with the same dateline and headlined Syrian Misery Goes Unheeded

Ambassador Abramowitz wrote that "...our public and government have been complacent in the face of massive human suffering. Recall Rwanda and Cambodia*. More recently the U.S. public has watched passively for well over two years the continuing destruction of a highly developed state: Syria." (*Note: Both disasters received public demands for action.) In my view, nothing changed over the next year and up to now. 

Many nations, including the U.S., face new humanitarian challenges of seemingly impossible proportions. We have risen to such challenges in the past. We have shown that dedicated people in government, foreign service and civilian life can achieve dramatic turnarounds. In spite of the current difficulties, both Morton Abramowitz and Valerie Amos have praised the work under very trying circumstances of the humanitarian organizations in Syria and the region. 

As an avowed humanitarian nation, the U.S. government and the American public need to ask and answer: Will the U.S. lead again as in the refugee decade, rising to do far more than we thought possible on humanitarian fronts? Will we put in place bold policies and strategies as we did in the past when faced with equally, though different, global humanitarian challenges?  

The executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government need to break the silence on humanitarian action regarding Syrian refugees. Along with domestic and international partner organizations, the U.S., UN and others need to "put ordinary people at the heart of decision-making," as Ms. Amos calls for in her commentary. To do would require leadership by which humanitarian actions, such as "no fly zones," are woven into the fabric of government policies and responses at home. 

You might also like to read: 
Fred Hiatt, "The Defense of Inaction," The Washington Post, April 19, 2015

For this article, Mr. Purcell drew on the epilogue draft of his book manuscript. 

Jim Purcell lives outside Washington, DC.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

BRIEF FLASH on Book Progress

  • Book agent queries on-going.
  • Hope of the Phoenix Foreword by U.S. policy leader
  • Short e-books on current Middle East-Europe crisis and U.S. past humanitarian work being adapted for early printing.
  • Hope of the Phoenix book proposal has been underway for a few weeks of writing, editing, and review by an experienced proposal guide. Update: Proposal complete. 
  • When a fresh overview of the book is finished, the marketing section will have final touches added. Complete.
  • Current refugee and aid worker crises,lagging supplies and continuing danger for citizens of Syria and beyond, in Middle East, continue to demand attention and answers soon. --Blog editor. 7/15

Saturday, May 9, 2015


Inside Book 1-Awake and Rise: The International Geneva Conference on Boat People
For readers interested in, yet not familiar with, refugee issues of the 1970s and '80s, links are provided for some of the information below. 

A Geneva Conference
on Indochina-photo
In the early times of World War II, President Roosevelt called for a meeting in Evian, France, to focus on refugee plight. However, the U. S. sent an unofficial representative, unlike other governments. Engagement or isolation remained two opposing principles of United States foreign policy.

Evacuations during Saigon, South Vietnam's chaos of 1975, as North Vietnam troops advanced toward Saigon and the U.S. embassy, were not the end as some hoped. A sea of refugee numbers swelled, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher proposed the Geneva Conference on Boat People for two days in July 1979.  

Unlike the Evian Conference in 1938, when Europe was already at war against Hitler, the Geneva conference related to aftershocks of the Vietnam War attracted big actors on the international scene, including the American vice president. A British Parliament afterward praised the meeting's success:

 "In concentrating international attention on the plight of the refugees and on the urgent need to help them and the countries in which they have sought refuge, the conference was humanitarian. But it was widely agreed that the problem could not be solved unless attention was also given to its root causes and that these have been the inhumane policies of Vietnam.
      "The conference resulted in a massive increase in offers of resettlement places, from 125,000 to 260,000, and in new pledges of additional financial support for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' activities amounting to 190 million United States dollars…." (emphasis added; 1979 dollars)

U.S. Vice-President Walter F. Mondale said that the Geneva conference was intended to "turn the heat up" on the crisis of refugee boat people. He led the American delegation and gave an emotional speech, paying attention to the fact that the Geneva conference marked the highest level government delegation ever to attend an international refugee meeting.  In Mondale's view, engagement was and should be the guiding principle of the immediate post-Vietnam War era and into the future. 

"I would have loved to be there," Jim Purcell said. He stayed in Washington, DC, under the rationale that the new U.S. refugee organization was shaky, in early stages, and he wanted to be in place, in case. An official congressional decision and State Department announcement of the new refugee program's 'home,' its capacities and roles, had only recently been made firm. As the conference met, the bureau's launch from Washington's State Department was made official. 

Historically, State had been either uninvolved in running programs or assessed as unsuccessful in their operation. The new bureau for refugees would be a test on many levels, and eyes were on it from the nation's capital, to towns where volunteer citizens lived, and across the international community. 

At home, the State Department and Capitol Hill would need to address urgent budgetary needs on behalf of refugees. The proverbial ball had finally started rolling, and Jim Purcell was to be the point person, watchman on the wall, and planner for the long haul, although he did not yet realize it. 

Well-known appointees would come and go as directors of the program, some seeming to have more commitment than others. As a deputy, manager, and acting director in an unavoidable see-saw fashion between appointees, Jim was made the official director by appointment of Secretary of State George P. Shultz in 1983, four years after the program's launch. 

In early days organizing State's refugee program, one of Jim Purcell's chief interests was the history of U.S. policy and action regarding refugees. The unsuccessful Evian-les-Bain conference seemed, to him, to be a missed opportunity for the U. S. to avoid repeating later. The Geneva Conference on Boat People formally marked a major shift in U. S. foreign and refugee policy.  As one reader has put it, "significant change in American involvement."

"Hope of the Phoenix" author hopes to reach Gen-Xers and Millennials about the Refugee Decade

Hope of the Phoenix

 The Reawakening and Rise of America's Humanitarian Spirit 
from the Ashes of Vietnam, 1975-1986

Early draft notes
James N. (Jim) Purcell, Jr.

Hope of the Phoenix is two or three weeks away from a finished  manuscript. The author's 400 pages establish a historical record about a team that saved post-Vietnam War Refugees (1975), then refugees in Cambodia and Laos, followed quickly by global refugee emergency rescues from 1979 onward. The years of the mid-1970s into the 1980s have often been referred to as "the refugee decade."

The pages show ideals, risks, and results of the leading nation in the world reawakened to its humanitarian spirit, joined under complementary policies, and a noble spirit sometimes forgotten and even avoided.

Refugee numbers exploded in an aftershock of global upheavals--the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, Central America and the Caribbean, South Asia, and the USSR--that forced civilians to flee across borders. The USSR, on the other hand, ignored advocate please around the world to release any Soviet Jews and other persecuted minorities that wanted to emigrate.   

"This story needs to be told before eyewitnesses are gone." That is the energy behind the Hope of the Phoenix being finished now, decades after events. It's history largely unrecorded about brave actors around the world in different places, positions of influence, and power.

Millennials and the as-yet-unnamed generations after them should also hear of their nation's duty, and theirs, to help refugees in whatever ways possible. They need a purpose beyond themselves. They deserve a well-told, inspiring first-hand true story of how a nation combined policy and action at a critical period of its history.

To Gen-Xers and Millennials, the Vietnam War and its aftermath is like ancient history unless their interest is awakened to millions of refugee sagas, globally, that affected public policies and still have value for how America will lead and respond to "what's next?" questions of how and when to rescue and restore lives torn and taken by armed conflicts. 

*The U.S. Refugee Program was renamed later as Population, Refugees, and Migration within State, serving refugees and others. In these days, the world watches the another expanding critical mass of desperate victims of conflict.    

Wednesday, May 6, 2015



Hope of the Phoenix
The Reawakening and Rise of America's Humanitarian Spirit 
from the Ashes of Vietnam

"The work of people in this Department has saved countless lives. Your dedication to the refugees of Indochina marks one of the shining moments of the Foreign Service." 

Secretary of State George Shultz spoke those words to State Department officers in a speech, the "Meaning of Vietnam." All gathered in and around State's front entrance hall on April 25, 1985, five days prior to the 10th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon. 

Jim met with George P. Shultz in California on Tuesday, April 28, 2015, in the Secretary's office at the Hoover Institution, on the Stanford University campus. Jim briefed Mr. Shultz about Hope of the Phoenix, and they reminisced about that crucial era - "the refugee decade."

The two men noted that their meeting about Jim's book coincided almost to the day with the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, April 30, 1975, when cries for help for thousands, then millions, of Southeast Asia refugees began. 

As Secretary of State for President Reagan, Mr.Shultz spoke up for refugee haven, aid, and assistance. He spoke before Congress on behalf of humanitarian immigration for Amerasian children. He participated in foreign policy negotiations with governments needing U.S. insistence on changes (e.g., the USSR and Soviet Jews and other religious minorities) as part of negotiations on other vital global interests.   

Refugee issues were an integral part of U.S. foreign policy decisions during three presidential administrations: Ford, Carter, and Reagan, each of whom recognized and acted upon humanitarian elements of foreign policy.      

Hope of the Phoenix: The Reawakening and Rise of America's Humanitarian Spirit from the Ashes of Vietnam, 1975-1986 brings to life a remarkable slice of U.S. history regarding refugees. The insider's view of the interim and then appointed director of the new Bureau for Refugee Programs, 1979-1986, is full of region-wide accounts.

From Southeast Asia, an array of global crises erupted: the Middle East,USSR (as mentioned), Africa, Eastern Europe, Central America, the Mediterranean, and South Asia. Their plight needed the organization and convincing outreach of the United States.

The State Department and its Refugee Program led the way with its in-house team, foreign embassy teams, other U.S. agencies at home and abroad, the U.S. Congress, the UN and its affected agencies, including the Red Cross, International Red Cross, UNHCR, World Food Program, and many others.

What highly recommends the book is its thorough research: recorded interviews of others on-the-scene, peer reviews from the same, and an array of news and other reports of the time.

Five Books (parts/sections) include chapters according to regions. The fifth and briefest of all the books is being written and is under peer review and comments.

All of this and more Jim and George P. Shultz, whom Jim has considered a mentor since 1970, experienced up close to strategic and tactical decisions and actions. 

Jim appreciated Mr. Shultz's recent encouragement for the book.