THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Dearborn, Michigan) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release April 16, 1999
PRESS BRIEFING BY FEMA DIRECTOR JAMES LEE WITT, DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR OF AID HATTIE BABBITT, AND SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR MULTILATERAL AFFAIRS FOR NSC ERIC SCHWARTZ Roseville Recreation Center Dearborn, Michigan
12:01 P.M. EDT
COLONEL CROWLEY: Good morning. In advance of the President's arrival here, for the next few minutes before he begins his remarks downtown, we thought we'd use the opportunity to bring some of our humanitarian experts in to give you kind of a preview of -- a review of where we are with the humanitarian situation on the ground, the importance of the humanitarian efforts that are being ginned up here in Detroit and elsewhere around the country, and then how that assistance will get to where it needs to be on the ground in places like Albania, Macedonia, the frontline states that are dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo.
So we have three briefers for you: Eric Schwartz will start off. He's the Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs at the National Security Council. He'll be followed by Hattie Babbitt, the Deputy Administrator of AID; and then James Lee Witt, the Director of FEMA. So, starting off, Eric Schwartz.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Thanks, PJ. We've all read the reports and the stories of the forced marches, the killings for which Slobodan Milosevic is responsible. What we've seen over the past month is really -- three weeks -- is really a continuation of what we saw throughout 1998, when more than 400,000 Kosovars were displaced in one manner or another.
The U.S. from the start has been strongly behind the humanitarian assistance effort to try to address the suffering that Milosevic has created. Over the past year we've done about $150 million in assistance to displaced Kosovars. And the President's supplemental budget request will include substantial additions in the humanitarian area. This is to aid both civilian organizations like the United Nations High Commission of Refugees, as well as the NATO military and humanitarian effort, which is ongoing in both Macedonia and Albania.
In addition to our own efforts, the U.S. military has performed tremendous service, and will continue to do so. We're in the process of -- beginning construction of facilities for refugees in Albania. The U.S. military is beginning barge transport from Ancona, Italy, into Albania. We will be providing sheeting, blankets, hygiene kits, water, tanks and tents. So both the U.S. military and the Agency for International Development and the State Department Refugee Bureau are all deeply engaged in the effort.
Critical, especially here in Detroit, the non-governmental organizations have been partners in this effort. The President will see them today, right here. And that is a critical element in our overall approach in responding to the humanitarian disaster. And in that respect, we are especially concerned over the past several days not only about the reports of the internally displaced within Kosovo who continue to suffer -- we estimate that there may be several hundred thousand or more inside -- as well as reports over the past 24 hours of additional displacement out of Kosovo. Over the past 24 hours, about 12,000 Kosovars are believed to have fled Kosovo into neighboring countries including Macedonia and Albania.
The President established a coordination council to address this issue, and today we have representatives of two agencies on that council. Brian Atwood, our AID Administrator, is the director, is the chairman of the council, and his deputy, Hattie Babbitt, the Deputy Administrator of AID is here and she will speak to you in a minute. And after Hattie, James Lee Witt, another member of the council, the Director of FEMA. And I think it's especially here in Michigan where there are private voluntary organizations and so much private citizen concern, I think the work that Director Witt and FEMA has done in coordinating the effort of private citizens who want to assist in the humanitarian effort really has been groundbreaking, and we want to offer our most sincere thanks and appreciation to FEMA in this effort.
But before we hear from Director Witt, let me introduce Hattie Babbitt who will talk for the Agency for International Development. We'll be able to take questions after the remarks.
MS. BABBITT: Thank you very much. I'm Deputy Director of USAID. USAID is the home for OFTA, the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and coordinates a lot of the nongovernmental organization and governmental work that goes on in places like Albania and Macedonia. I thought it might be helpful to you to give you some examples of the kinds of things that we're going to be facing in the future. Everybody's read all of your stories about what we're facing now. Eric talked about new refugees coming across the border; that's, of course, one of the things we've been planning for is new influxes, how will those people be handled in the context of the already very crowded camps and conditions, particularly in Albania.
The other issue that will arise, I predict, we are planning for and will certainly be of concern in the near, medium and long-term future are those refugees who are not in the camps who are so visible to everyone, but those who are housed in homes, both in Albania and in Macedonia.
One of the facts about this region is that it is the poorest part of Europe. If you look at the per capita GDP in Albania and Macedonia, it's roughly the per capita GDP of Haiti and significantly below the per capita GDP of Honduras and Nicaragua, the next two poorest countries in our hemisphere. So these are extraordinarily challenged countries, even without these massive influxes of refugees.
The way that the international community handles some of that with host families is to provide mostly through the World Food Program, but through all sorts of NGOs as well. Food and provisions -- wheat, sugar, cooking oil, some beans, perhaps, cheese, additional kinds of food to help with the very tight food supply. You've all seen the influx of blankets and so forth. Those don't just go to camps, they also go to these very generous host families who often will have ten or 15 additional people in their two very small rooms.
The status that I can give you is that we have a DART team in both countries -- those are Disaster Assistance Response Teams -- which go in, and they are very experienced people. The DART team leader in Macedonia is a smoke jumper from Boise, Idaho. These are people who are accustomed to sort of managing camps and managing emergency situations. The DART team leader in Albania is also a very experienced one, and what they do is go in and assess how best under very, very stretched circumstances to move commodities.
Moving commodities in a situation like Albania or in Macedonia is extraordinarily difficult, and those are the folks who decide which NGO has the capacity -- they get bids, they get requests from NGOs and they make an analysis of who is best at camp management, who can best provide additional food, who can best provide additional shelter, who can best coordinate measles and polio vaccinations, who can best provide sanitation, a huge issue.
The sanitation issues up in the Kukes area in Albania I think are a good example. It's no place you want to be, but in fact, we've made enormous progress in recent days in building pit latrines and doing those kinds of things that provide for sanitation under these very taxing circumstances.
What I'd like to do now is pass the microphone on to James Lee Witt that -- he will explain just how extraordinary this partnership is. You all have heard how NATO has stepped in to help deal with the logistics in Albania and Macedonia. That's a very unusual thing. That was necessitated by the enormous numbers of people coming across the border at once.
The handoff from NATO to the NGOs should be completed sometime next week if the level of refugees remains pretty much the same. If it increases, we'll have to reevaluate exactly how fast that handoff takes. There are NGOs that are very experienced at camp management; CARE out of Atlanta is one of them. But if the circumstances remain more or less stable, we would anticipate a handoff next week. If we don't remain more or less stable, then we'll reevaluate that need.
Another extraordinary part about this has been the very close collaboration that James Lee Witt has offered from FEMA. I'll let him describe that to you, but these are extraordinary circumstances and this is a steadfast national and international team that's working together to approach it.
MR. WITT: Thanks, Hattie. And good afternoon. FEMA's role in the support of the Kosovar refugees is to coordinate the U.S. donations in support of USAID. We have operators that are on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, that are taking donations calls. And what's really amazing is the stories that they are hearing from the people that are calling.
We've taken over 31,000 calls, and it's -- 95 percent of the calls want to make a cash donation to the volunteer organizations that are working in Kosovo for -- or around Kosovo for those refugees and supporting those volunteer organizations.
We have a list of the organizations that Interaction has provided to us, supporting the efforts with USAID. And we will go through that list until someone selects an organization and makes a donation. But what's interesting, one gentleman called; he made a $1,000 donation to the organization that he selected. The next day he called back and said, I was thinking about this and I don't think that $1,000 was enough. I want to contribute another $1,000.
One lady called and said, I want to give $500 to CARE. Then she said, no, make it $1,000. One gentleman called and said, I've been up all night long worrying about these refugees, seeing their pictures on television, and I just wanted to call to make a donation to help the effort.
It is overwhelming. The organizations are trying to get us the numbers now so we can share them with you, what the American people have contributed so far. And some of them have said it's been -- they have received now more than they received in the entire response to Hurricane Mitch.
So the American people are responding in an overwhelming way. Some want to give -- some want to be connected where they could be a foster home for a whole family, if they could adopt a family or a child temporarily until they could go back home. Corporations have called wanting to donate huge medical supplies. And then we get them in contact with USAID and also the volunteer organizations doing that type of relief so it can support the effort.
So we're very pleased to be able to work and help the effort. It's 1-800-USAID-Relief. They can go to the Internet with WWW.Interaction.Org. And what's really interesting is 60 percent of the calls have connection to the Internet and have been going to the web page looking up the organizations as well. Schoolchildren have called. They are taking up donations and pick out a volunteer organization they want to contribute to.
So it's very overwhelming to all of us, the amount of aid and the calls that we're getting. Our operators are on duty seven days a week, 24 hours a day. And I was out there Saturday visiting with our operators that are taking these calls, and you should have seen the spirit that they have in talking to all of these people calling. And they, themselves, are overwhelmed with gratitude for what the American people are doing.
So I guess we'll be happy to take any of your questions.
Q The 31,000 calls -- what time period?
MR. WITT: Most of the calls are in the daytime or in the late afternoon. Quite a few calls are late at night, different shifts of people getting off work.
Q You mentioned money in the supplemental for refugees. How much in the supplemental or what portion of the supplemental will be for humanitarian assistance?
MR. SCHWARTZ: I think that's for others to tell you in terms of exact numbers. But what I can say is the President has made it clear to all of us that our response on the humanitarian side must be adequate, generous, and must meet the critical needs -- or at least must meet our fair share of the critical needs.
Q What about a dollar figure --
MR. SCHWARTZ: As a general matter, the U.S. share of the international relief efforts has been in the neighborhood, traditionally, on the civilian side, civilian relief efforts of 20 to 25 percent, usually on the upper end of 25 percent.
Q Out of the supplemental figure?
MR. SCHWARTZ: I think we'll just have to wait and see, precisely. I think, clearly, it will be a not insignificant amount, but I don't want to get into any level of detail.
Q Can you give us a ballpark figure -- because 20 or 25 percent of the number -- we don't know what the number is.
MR. SCHWARTZ: No, no, when I say 20 to 25 percent, I'm talking about the U.S. In international relief efforts, this is a multilateral relief response. And when the United States participates in multilateral relief responses as a general matter, we contribute to civilian relief efforts up to 25 percent of the international total. And as we have put together our thinking relating to the supplemental, that percentage has guided our thinking.
Q Of the 31,000 calls -- from what period of time?
Q What day to what day?
Q What period of time?
Q Two days? A week?
MR. WITT: This coming Tuesday will be two weeks.
Q Do you know who the President is meeting with now? Do you know exactly who the President is meeting with now?
MR. WITT: At this moment? I do not know at this moment.
Q What are the humanitarian groups for the Albanian Americans that he is meeting with?
MR. WITT: My understanding, there are several different volunteer organizations that are working the humanitarian effort that are going to be here today.
Q -- in this list?
MR. WITT: I do not have the list.
MR. SCHWARTZ: We'll get it for you.
Q What's the average donation from the private -- the cash donations you said?
MR. WITT: One corporation that we linked up with the volunteer organization that they wanted to contribute to was $100,000.
Q -- internal refugees? The President indicated earlier this week in the Rose Garden that within a couple of days there would be a plan to try and assist these people. Is there?
MR. SCHWARTZ: This is an issue which is being worked actively by a range of countries, as well as the North Atlantic Council of NATO has looked at this issue and explored a range of options. The options for getting food to the displaced in Kosovo are not many. And ultimately, we're prepared to support efforts of private volunteer organizations and appropriate international organizations to try to get food and medicine in. We think, under current circumstances, from our side, that is something that is feasible to do, but it needs the acquiescence or the permission of the Serb authorities, and it needs the agreement of the Serb authorities not to go after civilians, civilian relief deliverers, and the recipients of relief. And that agreement from the Serb authorities is, as yet, forthcoming. We haven't gotten that.
Q -- discussions --
MR. SCHWARTZ: Discussions are taking place on a number of different fronts on that issue, yes. International organizations as well as private volunteer organizations.
Q -- about Michigan and why are you all here today? Is there anything unique about Michigan's efforts?
MR. WITT: I think part of the distinction here is there is a large Albanian population in this area, and also there is considerable relief efforts from the Albanians in this area working with the relief organizations to support the effort.
MS. BABBITT: The only thing I would add to that is the President spoke about Kosovo yesterday in San Francisco; he will be speaking about it today. And he will use opportunities during domestic travel to speak about this issue. And he was in Detroit for other reasons today as well.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Let me also say that the President met a couple of days ago with representatives of the Serbian American community as well. This is -- our efforts are not directed at any nationalities, directed at the policies of Slobodan Milosevic, and in fact, had quite a good meeting in many respects with the Serbian Americans, we understand.
For example, the United States has -- we have provided substantial assistance to displaced Serbs in Serbia, displaced in the Bosnian conflict. So we believe that humanitarian assistance should go to displaced civilians wherever they are, and that is an important part of our overall approach.
Q Would you say that the amount of the donations is unprecedented? Because you said it was bigger than Mitch.
MR. WITT: Some of the volunteer organizations that we're working with, we have gone out to them to try to get a number since we've been doing this, supporting them. They're looking at those now, but they have come back and said that the contributions since we started -- one major organization has received over $1.5 million; one newer organization just getting started has received $75,000; one has received already half the amount that they received in the entire Mitch fundraising effort. One organization has raised as much as they did for Mitch, and recently had their most successful fundraising day in its 20-year history.
So it's really, truly an overwhelming response to this. A major brokerage firm is donating $100,000 to three Interaction members, having learned about the organizations over the Internet, the web site.
So it's -- they've responded extremely well and we're very proud of the effort.
MS. BABBITT: The only thing I would add to that is that the First Lady has done a public service announcement which will talk about Kosovo, refer people to 1-800-USAID-Relief, and when they call that number they will get the telephone operators that James Lee Witt has talked about. So we are continuing with this, with the First Lady's help. And they will show the PSA later today as part of this.
COLONEL CROWLEY: I think we have the PSA to air for you right away. I think there is a paper floating around that has some specific representation on the relief organizations here in the Detroit area that will be represented at the event today, including Southeastern Chapter of the American Red Cross; the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit; the Roseville Salvation Army; Mercy International USA; Life for Relief and Development; the Catholic Relief Services, Detroit Archdiocese; the Albanian Islamic Center; and Church World Service, CROP.
But there is a paper, has a little background on each of these organizations. So we'll go ahead with the PSA now.
Q When did this start airing, the PSA? Is this brand new? Today.
MS. BABBITT: But it is up on satellite as of 1:30 p.m. Eastern Standard.
Q Where is it running?
COLONEL CROWLEY: I'm going to hand out a press release with all the details. There are, roughly, I think 40,000 Albanian Americans in the Detroit area. So one of the reasons why -- you have such a concentration of Albanian Americans here in the Detroit, ergo, quite naturally, a great community effort to try to support the relief organizations that are helping provide the necessary supplies overseas.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 12:40 P.M. EDT