Opposition For Trump’s Nominee as @StateDept’s Refugee Chief Gets Louder

Posted: 2:26 pm PT

 

On May 24, the White House announced the nomination of former FSO Ronald Mortensen to be the Assistant Secretary of State for the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM).

The WH released a brief bio:

Dr. Mortensen is a retired Foreign Service Officer.  For the past 15 years, he has worked with the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA).  Dr. Mortensen served at U.S. diplomatic missions in France, Australia, Canada, Gabon, Mauritania and Chad.  He has worked on humanitarian responses that saved lives and alleviated the suffering of millions of people in Iraq, Syria, Mali, Libya, Haiti, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and many other countries in West Africa.  Most recently, Dr. Mortensen served as Disaster Assistance Response Team leader in Iraq.  Dr. Mortensen is the recipient of numerous Department of State (State) and USAID awards including the Una Chapman Cox Fellowship.  He is a Vietnam era, Air Force veteran.  Dr. Mortensen earned two B.S. degrees and a Ph.D. from the University of Utah and an M.A. from the University of Oklahoma.  He speaks French.

According to the brief bio released, Mr. Mortensen is a retired Foreign Service Officer who also did work for USAID/OFDA.  A source told us he was an FSO from 1977 to 1996. The Una Chapman website confirms that he was one of the two recipients of the Una Chapman Cox Sabbatical Leave Fellowship in 1991. This fellowship is available to Foreign Service employees (Generalists and Specialists), for Grade FS-01 and FS-02 in any career track. There is speculation that he was on the administrative career track given the work that he did for USAID following his retirement from the Foreign Service. Click here for more of that from Jeremy Konyndyk who led USAID’s  Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance from 2013 to 2017.

In September 2017, the State Department’s blog, DipNote reblogged a USAID post highlighting “a few of the amazing humanitarians who are this year’s winners of the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal in the category of National Security and International Affairs.” The blogpost includes Mr. Mortensen who it says “served as the DART Leader in Iraq five times over the past two-and-a-half years.”  USAID’s original post is here: And the Oscar for Public Service goes to…USAID!

The Utah Standard News where Mr. Mortensen is described as “an earlier supporter and long-time columnist” has a more detailed background and links to the nominee’s position as a “a staunch advocate against illegal immigration.

The Mortensen nomination was submitted  to the Senate on May 24 and is still pending in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as of this writing.  We do not expect this administration known for doubling down on controversial issues to withdraw this controversial nomination. Even if this nomination manages to make it through the SFRC, where the split is 11 v. 10, it may end up not going anywhere. The GOP currently has a slim Senate majority at GOP 51 v. 49 (Dems 47, Ind 2); one GOP senator (McCain) has already asked for the withdrawal of this nomination, and a second one (Flake) is on the record for not supporting this nominee.  That said, strange things are happening these days, so we can’t really say when a nomination is dead until it is dead. And even then, some nominations will presumably come back as zombies next January if the President renominates them.

BONUS CLIP:

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#HurricaneMatthew Closes US Embassies in Haiti, Jamaica, and The Bahamas; USAID Activates DART

Posted: 1:44 am ET
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Due to Hurricane Matthew, the State Department has authorized the voluntary evacuation of authorized family members of U.S. government employees from the The Bahamas, Jamaica, and Haiti. A Travel Alert for Cuba recommends that U.S. citizens defer travel to eastern Cuba.

Alert October 3, 2016 Cuba Travel Alert
Warning October 2, 2016 Haiti Travel Warning
Warning October 1, 2016 Jamaica Travel Warning
Warning October 1, 2016 The Bahamas Travel Warning

 

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US Embassy Nepal: DART and Search and Rescue Teams Are On the Ground

Posted: 12:15 am EDT
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At the DPB on April 27, the State Department said that Embassy Kathmandu remains open and the U.S. Embassy and the American Club continue to shelter U.S. citizens and their family members as well as dozens of non-Americans. There are reportedly about 85 U.S. citizens at the chancery and about 220 U.S. citizens at the American Club.  The spokesman said he is “not aware of any significant damage, at least not that is impeding their [embassy’s] operations.”  

Embassy Kathmandu staff is reportedly being supplemented with resources in the region “to better enable us to respond to – not only to the things concerning U.S. citizens, but also liaison coordination with the U.S. Government and such.” All of the American personnel at the embassy are accounted for. The embassy is continuing its efforts to account for all its local employees. Meanwhile, the DART and the search and rescue teams have arrived in country.

 

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Nepal Earthquake: USAID/OFDA activates Disaster Assistance Response Team; how you can help in relief efforts

Posted: 12:30 am EDT
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On April 25, the U.S. Government (USG) issued a disaster declaration for Nepal due to the effects of the earthquake. In response, USAID/OFDA immediately activated a Response Management Team (RMT) in Washington, D.C., and a DART—including urban search-and-rescue (USAR) specialists from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department—to support emergency response efforts in cooperation with the GoN. USAID/OFDA has also authorized an initial $1 million to address urgent needs.

According to media reports, the earthquake has resulted in widespread damage and destruction of buildings as well as damaged roads and other public infrastructure. According to USAID, USG staff in Kathmandu reported that electrical and telecommunications networks are intermittently operational, although landlines appear to function. The airports in Kathmandu and Pokhara reportedly remained open, with some commercial flight activity already resumed.  Nepal earthquake death toll is now reported to be over 3,200, including 3 Americans.  More than 6,000 have been injured in the earthquake.

The U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu has drilled about the big one for years now. Our post there has an American staff of less than a hundred. Post is a typical accompanied post so there will be family members there.  If public infrastructure and food supply becomes problematic, we anticipate that family members will be evacuated to a safehaven area or back home like what happened in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake. It is also worth noting that in a crisis like this, the local employees who are expected to assist the mission may also be facing their own challenges with the need and safety of their own families. Let’s keep them all in our thoughts.

In response to the Government of Nepal requests for assistance, USAID/OFDA deployed a DART to Nepal. The team includes USAID/OFDA humanitarian specialists and 54 USAR personnel from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. USAID/OFDA has also allocated an initial $1 million for relief organizations in Nepal to address urgent humanitarian needs. Also this:

For nearly two decades, USAID/OFDA has supported disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts in Nepal, including throughout Kathmandu Valley. USAID/OFDA funding has enabled the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to identify, prepare, and preserve more than 80 open spaces in Kathmandu Valley to ensure the sites are available for humanitarian purposes—such as distribution centers or warehouses—in the event of large-scale disasters. USAID/OFDA has also supported Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) to pre-position critical emergency relief supplies in order to address the immediate needs of affected communities following a disaster.

Here are a few more updates via Twitter:

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We understand that due to the weather, tents are an urgent need right now. USAID/OFDA director Jeremy Konyndyk says, “We’re mobilizing emergency shelter supplies from our global stocks. Clear need.”

How You Can Help

USAID says that the most effective way people can assist relief efforts is by making cash contributions to humanitarian organizations that are conducting relief operations. A list of humanitarian organizations that are accepting cash donations for disaster responses around the world can be found at www.interaction.org.

USAID encourages cash donations because they allow aid professionals to procure the exact items needed (often in the affected region); reduce the burden on scarce resources (such as transportation routes, staff time, and warehouse space); can be transferred very quickly and without transportation costs; support the economy of the disaster-stricken region; and ensure culturally, dietary, and environmentally appropriate assistance.

More information can be found at:

  • The Center for International Disaster Information: www.cidi.org or +1.202.821.1999.
  • Information on relief activities of the humanitarian community can be found at www.reliefweb.int

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U.S. Embassy Liberia Now on Ordered Departure For Family Members, New Travel Warning Issued

— Domani Spero
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On August 7, the State Department ordered the departure of all family members not employed at the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia.  The new Travel Warning issued today says that the U.S. government employees in Liberia will remain on active duty at the Embassy and additional staff are being deployed to assist the Government of Liberia in addressing the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak.  This follows the departure of  the U.S. Peace Corps from Liberia on July 30 as a result of the current outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease in the region. Yesterday, the CDC also issued a Level 3 warning urging all US residents to avoid nonessential travel to Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia.  

Full State Department statement below:

At the recommendation of the U.S. Embassy in Liberia, the State Department today ordered the departure from Monrovia of all eligible family members (EFMs) not employed by post in the coming days. The Embassy recommended this step out of an abundance of caution, following the determination by the Department’s Medical Office that there is a lack of options for routine health care services at major medical facilities due to the Ebola outbreak. We are reconfiguring the Embassy staff to be more responsive to the current situation. Our entire effort is currently focused on assisting U.S. citizens in the country, the Government of Liberia, international health organizations, local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the Liberian people to deal with this unprecedented Ebola outbreak.

We remain deeply committed to supporting Liberia and regional and international efforts to strengthen the capacity of the Liberian health care infrastructure and system – specifically, their capacity to contain and control the transmission of the Ebola virus, and deliver health care. Additional staff from various government agencies including 12 disease prevention specialists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a 13-member Disaster Assistance Response Team from USAID are deploying to Liberia to assist the Liberian Government in addressing the Ebola outbreak.

A new Travel Warning for Liberia also came out today indicating that the ordered departure of USG family members will begin tomorrow, August 8. The new warning also advised travelers that some airlines have discontinued service and flights to Liberia and that air carriers chartered by medical evacuation insurance companies may not be able to provide timely services in Liberia or the region. Excerpt below:

In May 2014, a case of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) was confirmed in Liberia, marking the first case in a second wave of the EVD outbreak. Since then, EVD has continued to spread and intensify. The latest wave of the outbreak has overwhelmed Liberia’s health system and most health facilities lack sufficient staff or resources to address the continuing transmission of EVD.  Options for obtaining routine medical care are severely limited.  For more information concerning EVD, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.  Please direct inquiries regarding U.S. citizens in Liberia to EbolaEmergencyUSC@state.gov. Callers in the United States and Canada may dial the toll free number 1-888-407-4747.  Callers outside the United States and Canada may dial 1-202-501-4444.

If you arrive in Liberia and subsequently need routine or emergency medical care, you should expect limited, if any, options.  Travelers are advised that air carriers chartered by medical evacuation insurance companies may not be able to provide timely services in Liberia or the region.  Policyholders should confirm the availability of medical evacuation services prior to travel.  While commercial flights are still available from Monrovia, some airlines have discontinued service and flights may become more difficult to obtain.  If you plan to visit Liberia despite this warning, you should purchase travel insurance that includes medical evacuation, and confirm that the coverage applies to the circumstances in Liberia.

According to USAID , the deployed staff came from the Agency’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA)  and will be overseeing critical areas of the response, such as planning, operations, logistics in coordination with other federal agencies, including the U.S. Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services. Members of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are also on the DART to lead on public health and medical response activities.

USAID has already provided $2.1 million to the UN World Health Organization and UNICEF for the deployment of more than 30 technical experts and other Ebola response efforts.

Two days ago, USAID also announced an additional $5 million in assistance to help ramp up the international community’s Ebola response efforts. This new funding will support outreach campaigns via radio, text messages, and through local media as well as the expansion of Ebola outbreak programs the Agency is already supporting in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. These programs help trace people who may be infected with the disease, as well as provide health clinics and households with hygiene kits, soap, bleach, gloves, masks, and other supplies to help prevent the spread of disease.

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