Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A Creepy Tour Through the New State Department Website


Today I had reason to peruse the State Department website for the Bureau of Population, Migration and Refugees (PRM.) Most Americans have never heard of PRM. If you have ever been the recipient of US foreign aid, then PRM is where the money comes from. It’s the State Department bureau, along with USAID, that allots money for overseas refugee and humanitarian assistance. Much of its budget goes to UNHCR, but money is allotted to a smorgasbord of other UN agencies and NGOs, from the Red Cross to UNICEF. PRM also runs the overseas part of the refugee resettlement program. Each year, PRM and USAID are responsible for the majority of humanitarian assistance.
I couldn’t find what I was looking for (an initiative on gender equality in nationality law begun by former Sec. of State Clinton), so I went to the archive from the Obama administration to see if the info I needed had been erased. There, I was greeted by a posting devoted to John Kerry’s farewell, his face looking out at me like that of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh, so long ago does it now seem since his day and time. The CIA is Secretary of State now.
The archived PRM website from Kerry’s time contains a long list of things the Trump administration hates: Syrian refugees, LGBTQ refugees, gender-based violence prevention.
In the brave new world of the Trump administration, the first page of the PRM website is just a blank. The long list of Kerry initiatives and projects has been deleted. There is no mention of Syrian refugees. The Syrian refugee crisis is inconvenient to several of the world’s leaders, so it has been erased. The section on International Migration is also gone, similarly inconvenient.
All the Fact Sheets, Remarks and Press Releases of the previous administrations are also gone as though they never existed. While in 2016, PRM released over 20 Fact Sheets on topics ranging from the resettlement process to education funding in Somalia, today’s PRM has released only one, on what is left of the resettlement program.
In George Orwell’s classic book 1984, the main character, Winston, has a job at the “Ministry of Truth.” Winston’s job is to erase history by rewriting or destroying old newspaper articles. In Orwell’s book, the government makes its own truth by erasing anything that is inconvenient. Both inconvenient truths and inconvenient people are erased.
As I read the new PRM website, I can’t help but wonder whose job it was to erase the page on Syrian refugees from the PRM website and to wonder what his or her day to day life has been like in these past two years. Was it horrible for them to do that? Did they protest? Did they resign? I also wonder what Syrian refugees think about being erased from history by the world’s only super-power, wealthiest country and the location of the drafting of the 1951 Refugee Convention.
War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.