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Singer Bono Calls for Swift Action on Refugee Plight

  • Michael Bowman

Irish rock star and activist Bono testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington before a Senate subcommittee hearing on the causes and consequences of violent extremism and the role of foreign assistance, April 12, 2016.

Irish rock star and activist Bono testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington before a Senate subcommittee hearing on the causes and consequences of violent extremism and the role of foreign assistance, April 12, 2016.

Rock singer and human rights activist Bono urged star-struck U.S. lawmakers to rethink America’s response to refugee crises the world over, and to do more to assist those fleeing violence, repression, famine and disaster.

"I feel like the American people are very concerned," the U2 lead singer told VOA as he arrived on Capitol Hill. Then, he added, "It’s hard to get stuff done, isn’t it, around here [Washington]?"

Moments later, Bono addressed a Senate panel that appropriates funds for America’s outreach to the world. He noted that he recently accompanied U.S. lawmakers on a trip to the Middle East and Africa and was deeply moved by the humanitarian needs he saw unmet.

WATCH: Bono Advocates for Refugee Aid

"Aid can no longer be seen as charity, a nice thing to do when we can afford it," Bono said. "Aid in 2016 is not charity; it is national security."

The Irish rocker noted decades of U.S. assistance to the world from the post-World War II Marshall Plan to current-day efforts against the AIDS virus. He said the same commitment is needed now to help the world’s refugees.

"I have seen the impossible made possible right here in these halls [of Congress], and we need that leadership again in this moment of great jeopardy," he said.

Causes of extremism

The subcommittee met to examine the causes of violent extremism and the role of foreign assistance in combating it.

"We have to recognize we have an emergency on our hands, and we have to come up with a long-term strategy," said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who announced that the subcommittee would work to craft a refugee emergency relief package totaling 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget, which would be roughly $35 billion.

Graham said other vital U.S. programs must not be shortchanged to pay for the package.

"And it has to be world-driven, not United States-driven," the senator added.

Irish rock star and activist Bono, left, speaks with Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken on Capitol Hill in Washington prior to a Senate subcommittee hearing on the causes and consequences of violent extremism, April, 12, 2016.

Irish rock star and activist Bono, left, speaks with Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken on Capitol Hill in Washington prior to a Senate subcommittee hearing on the causes and consequences of violent extremism, April, 12, 2016.

Others underscored the enormousness of the challenge.

“If the uprooted formed a single country, it would be the world’s 24th largest,” said Deputy U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Kelly Clements. “Last year, more than 42,000 people fled their homes every single day.”

“We need global development and a counterextremism campaign that is as sophisticated and passionate and resourced as any fight we have taken on in our history,” said James Jones, a retired Marine Corps general and former national security adviser.

Funds scarce

Some lawmakers noted that federal funds were tight at home and abroad.

“We can’t even seem to pass emergency funding in this country to deal with the Zika virus spreading through our own country,” complained Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. “Just spending more money is not going to do it. We have to do better.”

Bono did not dispute that point, but added that funding was essential.

“The international community, though it means well, is having a lot of meetings about the crisis, and I believe it is issuing a record number of press releases. But what it’s not doing is cutting checks,” Bono said, adding that he sympathized with lawmakers’ need to prioritize limited resources. “I don’t know how you do it [find funds to help refugees]. But if you don’t do it now, it’s going to cost a lot more later, I do know that.”

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