Smith Amendments Promote Safe Evacuation of Americans from Conflict Zones
Lessons Learned from the Evans Case
Less than one month after Rep. Chris Smith traveled to Georgia to secure the safe passage of two young girls trapped in the war zone in Georgia, the House foreign affairs panel has unanimously approved his legislation pushing the Department of State to establish “ready-to-use” procedures to more speedily and safely broker safe passage and evacuations of Americans, especially children, from conflict zones.Less than one month after Rep. Chris Smith traveled to Georgia to secure the safe passage of two young girls trapped in the war zone in Georgia, the House foreign affairs panel has unanimously approved his legislation pushing the Department of State to establish “ready-to-use” procedures to more speedily and safely broker safe passage and evacuations of Americans, especially children, from conflict zones.
“When I was in Georgia, I met with officials from the Red Cross and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and learned that there were opportunities for swiftly evacuating American children that our embassy’s consular staff didn’t even know about,” Smith said. “My amendment will lead to new procedures and training so that US Embassy staff the world over can quickly and decisively act to rescue American children trapped in any future war zone.”
The Smith amendments were added to a broader package, the Stability and Democracy for Georgia Act, which authorizes US humanitarian assistance for the Georgian people, including medical care for the wounded and short-term housing for people displaced by the conflict.
As adopted by the committee, Smith’s first amendment requires the Department of State to reassess its practices in place and report how the Department of State can develop a protocol to provide greater timely assistance to United States citizens located within or in proximity to conflict zones in Georgia or other foreign conflict zones, including by making use of alternative means of evacuating such United States citizens and by facilitating greater communication with relatives of such United States citizens, and ensure that appropriate consular personnel are knowledgeable about such protocol.
In August, Smith worked with Joe and Tea-h Evans, his constituents from Howell, New Jersey, to secure the safe return of the Evans’ two young daughters, Ashley (7) and Sophia (3), who were visiting their grandparents in Georgia when hostilities broke out. When it proved impossible to secure the girls’ evacuation from Washington, Smith flew to the Republic of Georgia to meet with U.S., Georgian, and other international officials. With the personal help of the US Ambassador John Tefft and French Ambassador Eric Fournier, Smith helped secure the girls’ safe evacuation. Smith said that since his return to the US three additional children were, at his request, assisted by the Red Cross in moving to safer areas in Georgia with one child already safely home in NY.
“The Red Cross continues to work with families and now stands ready to transport children as need be,” he said. “They are a tremendous humanitarian resource that we must incorporate into a standing protocol for securing the safe movement of American citizens in volatile areas,” he said.
Smith’s second amendment urges “action to counteract the increased risk of human trafficking in conflict zones in Georgia.” The author of the landmark US legislation combating the trafficking of women and children, Smith said, “We know these thugs, the traffickers, look for women and children in the most vulnerable of times and places. A war zone is ripe for the abuse and fraud inherent in human trafficking and we must vigilant in precluding every added opportunity for this despicable crime.”
Speaking in support of the Smith provisions, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Cal), the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee said, “Rep. Smith, as is his wont, was out there… he’s out getting close to conflict areas trying to help both his constituents and others who have been stranded by this conflict. I think it’s quite a remarkable effort on his part, in a very difficult and tense situation, and it had a good ending. I urge adoption of the amendment.”
Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass), chairman of the subcommittee that oversees international organizations and human rights, commended Rep. Smith, “for his personal courage and his assiduous and incessant work on behalf of Americans stranded.”