In 2014, President Obama and President Guelleh announced the annual US-Djibouti Binational Forum, and we held the initial round of that in 2015 in Washington. We had a very fruitful conversation there laying out a lot of the agenda. We’re following up on that agenda, I must say, speedily and effectively. The US and Djibouti are friends, and we are working together in common interest on any number of things, obviously security, but well beyond security too. This part of the world has an incredibly rich culture, in part because of its strategic location, and that is a great source of prosperity. But also, it can put it into the centre of conflict and turbulence, as we have seen most recently with the events in Yemen. So it matters a great deal that the US and Djibouti are able to cooperate on the basis of both mutual respect, but also mutual interest, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Djibouti has become a regional base for science, for education, for health and for the environment. Djibouti is leaning forward on climate change and on new energy sources. I was pleased to learn about the partnerships that the local institutions are forging with American universities in order to tackle the threat of climate change.
Also, Djibouti has been an essential partner in the international counter-piracy efforts. And that is important because, as many of you remember, just a few years ago it seemed like the pirates were winning. At one point in 2011, pirates were holding some 32 merchant ships captive along with 736 hostages. It was a strange confrontation with history in a way that at this moment in the 21st century, with all of our capacity and all of our communication, a major sea lane was in jeopardy because of pirates. And obviously, we made a fundamental decision; it was unacceptable, it had to change. With Djibouti’s cooperation, the world community was able to get itself together and strike back. Today, pirates hold no seaworthy ships, and only a small number of hostages, and we hope that before long, that too will be zero. What it proves is that we do have mutual interests where we can find a capacity to be able to cooperate and make a difference. And it goes to show that international teamwork has an ability to successfully meet some of the challenges that we see in the region. The friendship between the US and Djibouti is healthy and strong, and we are very thankful to our hosts for their commitment to host our facility at Camp Lemonnier, where we try hard to be good guests.
We’re working with Djibouti on another challenge, which is helping the people of this country to generate a healthier and more dynamic national economy. That’s why we’re partnering with the government here on a new workforce development project that will help match the training of young people to the needs of today’s job market. What we, above all, want to do is prevent any young person from falling victim to the preying of violent extremists and people who offer a dead end instead of all of the possibilities of education, opportunity and work.
We’re also working with Djibouti to assist thousands of refugees who have fled violence. Djibouti has provided safe haven for many years to Somali refugees, and now, it is providing it to those seeking refuge from Yemen. We recently provided $2m to support the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’s operations in Djibouti alone, along with new support for humanitarian assistance in Yemen itself, where millions of vulnerable people urgently need help.
In addition to welcoming the Yemeni refugees, Djibouti has also helped to ensure the safe passage of thousands of evacuees from more than 60 countries, including American citizens. The protection of American citizens abroad is a top priority, obviously, always. And we’re going to continue to do everything we can possible to be able to ensure their safety. But we are particularly grateful – we could not be doing what we’re doing today without the help of Djibouti.