Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time, with David Miliband

Dec 4, 2017

Today there are 65 million people who have fled their homes because of conflict or persecution, says the International Rescue Committee's David Miliband. These are refugees not economic migrants, and half of them are children. It's a long-term crisis that will last our lifetimes. Why should we care? And what can we do about it, both at a policy level and as individuals?

JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I'm Joanne Myers, director of Public Affairs programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I would like to welcome our members, guests, and C-SPAN Book TV to this Public Affairs program.

We are extremely honored to have as our guest today David Miliband. David is the president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), where he oversees both the agency's humanitarian relief operations and its refugee resettlement and assistance programs in several American cities. I know that the name David Miliband resonates with most of our audience, but for those who want to learn more about our illustrious guest, please take a moment to read his bio, which was handed out to you when you checked in this morning.

Today he will be discussing one of the most divisive issues of our day, refugees. This topic is also the subject of his recently published book entitled Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time. It is, he says, about our duty to strangers.

While the refugee crisis may no longer be front-page news, make no mistake, it is ongoing, and it is global. While the fallout from years of brutal civil war in Syria tops this grim list, this is only part of the refugee outflow. The fact is, refugees are fleeing countries from Afghanistan to Somalia, from Honduras to Myanmar and beyond, seeking shelter and wondering how they will survive.

While there have always been refugees, those who are forced from their homes, whether escaping war, persecution, or natural disaster, there seems to be something different about what is happening now. In becoming not only an enormous humanitarian crisis but a political challenge, it raises very important moral questions about who we are and what we stand for, issues the Carnegie Council cares deeply about.

In Rescue, David offers a roadmap out of the current widespread refugee crisis. He tells us what it means to be a refugee, why we should care, and how we can make a difference. Taking us from war zones in the Middle East to peaceful suburbs in America, he explains the crisis and shows what can be done, not just by governments with the power to change policy, but by citizens with the urge to change life. What it comes down to, he writes, is simply this: "A fight to uphold the best of human nature in the face of rhetoric and policy that humor the worst." As he says, "If we fail refugees, then we betray our own history, values, and interests."

Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to our very distinguished guest. We are delighted that you are here today. Thank you.

DAVID MILIBAND: Thank you very much, and good morning, everyone. It is a real privilege to be here at the Council today. Ethics and international affairs at 8:15 in the morning is quite a challenging menu.

I want to first of all say thanks to you, Joanne, and to the Council for letting me come today, because one of the purposes of writing this book was to take the refugee crisis out of a self-selected world of humanitarian experts and countries that are dealing with refugees and occasionally the front page and bring it into wider conversation. One of my diagnoses of this crisis is that the world's refugees are a victim of a complacency that somehow law and practice had been established after the Second World War to protect refugees, and they were properly looked after. They were almost put into another part of the mind.

One reason for writing the book was to be able to come and have breakfasts like this to talk about the nature of the modern refugee crisis which in some ways bears hallmarks of previous refugee crises but has also got distinctive characteristics, and to try to engage people who had a wider interest to see that this issue of global displacement, of people forced from their homes by conflict and persecution, is deeply connected to the fate of the global system overall. So the fact that here the Council is interested in, yes, values and ethics and norms, but is also interested in international affairs, is exactly the nexus that I try to discuss in the book.

What I thought I would do is talk for about 20 minutes or so and then invite as many questions as possible and I will cover as many questions. I thought I would just talk about four things really: First of all, what is the refugee crisis today? Second, why should we care? Third, what can be done about it? And fourth, what do we all have to do about it, other than buy the book, obviously, which is very important.

Being British, I am extremely leery of anything that might be seen as self-promotion, but having been here for four years I realize that self-promotion is the name of the game. I can even tell you that every copy that you buy leads to a $2.25 donation to the International Rescue Committee. Any of you who think you are buying one copy, I have news for you. You will be going away with 10, and the IRC will get $22.00 as a result.

I just want to go through those four things: What is the crisis? Why should we care? What could be done? And what do we have to do?

Just let me start with the facts: 65 million people displaced from their homes by conflict or persecution in the world today, not economic migrants. People who are choosing to leave their home and their country in order to seek economic betterment, there are about 250 million of those. These 65 million people are homeless because of war or persecution.

Of that 65 million, 40 million are still within their own home country, so they are what is called "internally displaced." So 7 million Syrians have been bombed or driven out of their homes, but they are still living within Syria. In Northeast Nigeria, 2 million people have been displaced from their homes by the Boko Haram terrorist group, but they are still within Nigeria.

So 40 million internally displaced, about 25 million are refugees. Absolutely technically, 22.5 million are refugees, and 3 million are asylum seekers. Just keep in your head that 25 million people of the 65 million are people who have been driven from their homes by conflict or persecution, and they have gone into a neighboring country. The definition of a refugee is "someone who has a well-founded fear of persecution." In other words, they do not feel safe to go home, and they are judged not to be safe to go home.

One danger of this crisis and one idea behind the book is that 65 million feels like a dehumanized number. It is almost so big that it cannot be comprehended. It is actually one in every 110 people on the planet. It would be the 21st largest country in the world if it was a country.

There are characteristics of these people, though, that I think are important to understand. One is that half of these people are under the age of 18. So half of the world's refugees are children. We will come back to what that means for some of the argument about refugee resettlement, because if you think about the debate about Syrian refugees arriving in the United States, fully 47 percent of the Syrians who have been allowed to come to the United States are actually kids. One characteristic is that they are children.

A second characteristic that is very important about the displaced population is that they are displaced for a long time. Many of us—my own family, there will be other people in this room—have a family heritage of displacement during the Second World War, and the displacement was for a limited period of time, those who survived. My mother was a refugee from Poland in 1945; my dad was a refugee from Belgium in 1940 to the United Kingdom. Today the average length of displacement is 10 years, and once you have been a refugee for five years the average goes up to 21 years. So essentially we are talking about not just a large scale of displacement—65 million people, 25 million refugees—we are also talking about long-term displacement.

The third characteristic that I think is incredibly important—half are kids, 10-year average displacement—60 percent of refugees live in urban areas, not in camps. If I got $10 every time I am asked, "Do you work in camps?" I would be a rich man. The truth is that most refugees are not in camps; 60 percent of refugees are in urban areas. The challenge for them is different than in a camp setting. In a camp, you are pretty much guaranteed food, and if you are really sick, you will get some health care. In an urban setting, you are not guaranteed that kind of food delivery or the health delivery either. So we have an urbanized displaced population as well as a young displaced population as well as a long-term displaced population.

Obviously, there is a whole different book to be written about why should this be happening now, why should there be a refugee crisis today? Maybe we will come back to this in the questions, but I just want you to have it in your mind that there are about 20 to 25 weak states around the world that do not have the political systems that can contain religious, ethnic, and political differences. Most recently in the news is obviously Myanmar; 800,000 people driven out of the country in the space of nine weeks. The political system did not give them citizenship rights, did not recognize them properly, actually immiserated and impoverished them and torched their villages. So you have 20 to 25 weak states around the world that are not able to share power effectively.

Second, a weak and divided international political system—so this is your international affairs part of the story, and it speaks to my own background. I was foreign minister in the United Kingdom for three years. The international political system is weaker and more divided certainly than at any time since the end of the Cold War, but in some ways it is weaker than any time since World War II.

Third—and very difficult to talk about but dishonest not to mention—the IRC was founded by Albert Einstein to rescue Jews from Europe. Today about 45 percent of our beneficiaries are Muslim. A large part of the refugee crisis is located in Muslim-majority countries—Syria, Afghanistan, two prime examples—and the tumult that exists within the Islamic world is a part of the refugee crisis that exists today. It is not only—South Sudan has a million refugees in Uganda, which has nothing to do with Islam. But the fact that there is this electric, explosive debate within the Islamic world that in my description here "pits pluralism against purification," an essentially radical Salafism as an attempt to purify the Islamic world—it is a debate within Islam—is producing these large numbers of people. That degree of tumult is producing the refugee crisis.

None of those are short-term trends. Weak states, divided international system, huge debate within the Islamic world about its future and how it engages with the rest of the world, those are long-term trends, not blips. So what we are dealing with, I argue in the book, is something that is going to basically go on for the rest of my days. It is a long-term crisis, not something that is going to go away.

The second question then becomes, "Why should we care?" There is an obvious reason we should care, which is that I was brought up to believe that if there is someone in need and you are able to help them and you do not, that is not just a waste, it is a crime. So there is a moral call to this that I do not think we should be ashamed of.

We actually now no longer have the excuse that the Rohingya crisis is something we do not know about. Even in the 1990s people said about the debate in the former Yugoslavia: "Oh, I'm not sure what's really happening. I don't know." Even in 25 years. And certainly if you think back to some of the refugee crises in the 1970s, ignorance was used as an excuse, never mind in the 1940s or 1930s. But today we do not have the excuse of ignorance. We actually know the circumstances of people in Juba, South Sudan; in Aleppo, Syria; in Rakhine State. It is a choice about whether or not we as part of the richer, Western world, decide to do anything about it.

First of all, I do not think that we should shy away from the fact that it is a moral choice. People often say to me: "Yeah, but we've got our own problems at home. Charity begins at home." And my point to them is, "Yeah, but charity doesn't end at home." That is the central moral choice that I think we have to address, and it is put into stark relief when you learn that a country like Uganda, where the average income is $962 per year per person, has taken a million refugees over the last year. When I went to Uganda in June—I went to South Sudan to see our nutrition programs and then to Uganda to see the way they were handling the refugees—I met this deputy chairman of the local council in Northern Uganda, which is receiving all these refugees. He is an elected politician.

I said to him: "What do you think about this refugee crisis then? How are you going to deal with it?"

He goes—I know this is not a political event—"I'll tell you one thing. I'm not building a wall."

This is the age of globalization. He knew about your debate. The American debate had reached the deputy chairman of the council in Northern Uganda.

So there is a moral dimension. But one of the things I bring out in the book that I think is really important is that humanitarians should not rely only on an argument about a big heart, we should also make a hardheaded argument as well as a bighearted argument. I think that the strategic argument for exercising responsibility by the West—and we can come back to what the West means, I am not ashamed to talk about "the West." I think the West has made big mistakes, but the origins of the West . . .

There is this wonderful phrase which I quote from Joschka Fischer, who was the German foreign minister about the Atlantic Charter, which was signed by Churchill and by Roosevelt in 1941 in Newfoundland, which was four months before the United States entered the war. What they spent their time talking about in Newfoundland was not just the conduct of the war, the Atlantic Charter was about the framing of a postwar peace. Churchill was forced to swallow the—for him—harsh medicine that empires would have to give independence to their colonies, so self-determination was an important part of the Atlantic Charter, but so was the rule of the law, social justice, and international cooperation. And what Joschka Fischer said was that the Atlantic Charter was the "birth certificate of the West." It is a beautiful notion really.

But my argument is that there are historic reasons as well as strategic reasons and national security reasons for believing that tackling the refugee crisis is in our interest and not just the right thing to do. It is a smart thing to do and not just the right thing to do. The historic argument is that if we trash our own history by trashing the rights of refugees, then we actually trash our own history in a way that is dangerous for our own standing.

There is a strategic argument, which is that in the modern world, in the global village, if someone else's house is on fire, then your house is on fire. I live and work in New York—IRC is headquartered in New York—but if you are a European, you know that the Syrian refugee crisis did not stay in Syria and did not stay in the Middle East, it washed up on Europe's shores.

But there is also a national security argument. I did an event yesterday with Madeleine Albright and Steve Hadley in Washington about the national security case for America exercising its responsibilities appropriately in respect to refugees. We had a discussion about how there is nothing more powerful for the recruiting sergeants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), of Daesh, than to be told that the United States has not got the back of oppressed Muslims around the world. It is a direct recruiting sergeant. It is shocking but true that the ISIS/Daesh social media channels literally were celebrating when President Trump put out his executive order stopping refugees coming to the United States.

So there is an ideological national security argument. It is true that ISIS/Daesh have been vanquished in Raqqa—we have operations inside Syria—they have been vanquished in parts of Iraq, al-Qaeda in some ways is on the back foot. But this is a generational ideological challenge, not just a short-term military challenge. So I think there are strategic arguments as well as moral arguments for dealing with the crisis.

Third point: You might agree that it is a big crisis. You might agree that we should do something but then think, Well, there's nothing that can be done because the problem's so big that we can't solve it. My case to you is that there are things that can be done, but we have to change the way the humanitarian sector works in very fundamental ways if we are to do justice to the length of displacement, the child-focused nature of the displacement, and the urban nature of the displacement. We have got very distinguished ambassadors here, and I hope—they are obviously in the vortex of this in the United Nations which is caught in the middle of this refugee crisis between nation-states that are retreating and an international system that is creaking.

But I am very clear that unless we reframe our approach to humanitarian endeavor, we will fail. And the reframing is fundamentally about taking on the fiction that the refugee crisis is a short-term crisis.

The fiction is helpful for hosting countries—I do not want to name names, but Uganda, Jordan, etc. It is quite convenient that they can say: "Look, these people are just here for a short time. We need to provide some shelter for our brothers and sisters in the short term." But the truth is that the large majority of refugees are going to stay. Less than 1 percent of the world's refugees went home last year.

But the fiction is also convenient for the West because it allows them to say, "We'll just give you short-term grants to keep these people alive," and essentially we, as a large non-governmental organization—we are a $750 million organization now, the IRC—are trying to tackle long-term problems of violence against women, poverty and unemployment, and ill health with short-term grants, which is crazy. It is changing that mindset.

What does that mean? I think four things are really important to change the mindset: One, we should be saying that the expectation is that adult refugees are able to work. If you are displaced for an average of 10 years, you need to be able to work. That is only going to be possible if countries like Jordan that are supporting, hosting refugees, are given massive economic support. Jordan is pegged to the dollar, Jordan has an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program, Jordan has debt that has gone up from 54 percent to 96 percent of national income, and they have 650,000 registered refugees. So they need a different kind of offer from the World Bank, the IMF, and the international aid donors. At the moment, they are on short-term, drip-feed of aid.

The king of Jordan can say: "I've got a 33 percent youth unemployment problem among the Jordanians. So if I'm going to let refugees work, I need to ensure that my own population gets properly helped."

Of course, the truth is, if you say refugees are not allowed to work, that just means they do not work officially, they work in the informal sector, which drives them underground, which has its own problems. So actually there is a safety benefit, a protection benefit, as well as an economic benefit from regularizing that. They become taxpayers. So there is an employment challenge. We can say more about that.

Second, the saddest statistic that I have discovered in the last four years is that half of all the refugees are children, and less than 2 percent of the humanitarian budget goes on education. Less than 2 percent. It is a total scandal. It is also incredibly stupid if you think about it. There are 250,000 Syrians in Lebanon who have never had any education since they left Syria. It is not just a moral scandal, it is strategic stupidity. We have to take on the idea that education is a luxury, not a lifeline. The first thing that parents will say to you after they tell their relatives that they are alive when they land in Europe is, "Where can I get an education for my kids?"

We have a very exciting week coming up. IRC is partnered with Sesame Street, which some of you may have heard of from your youth, and we are in the running to win a $100 million prize from the MacArthur Foundation on the 12th of December that would address early childhood trauma among refugee children in the Middle East. People often say, "Oh, you know, we've got to build schools." For a lot of these kids, they are not in a mindset where they are ready to go to school. The toxic stress, the brain trauma of displacement means that they need really early social and economic intervention and support. This would be the largest early childhood development program ever in a humanitarian setting if we can win, but we have to think about education in a completely different way.

The third aspect of this may be a bit surprising, but it is obvious if you think about it. What is the thing that refugees lack the most? Cash. Money. If you are a Syrian refugee, you do not have access to your Syrian bank account when you leave. The basic idea that since refugees are living in urban areas—they need to pay rent, they need to buy food—the best thing you can give them is not food parcels, the best thing you can give them is cash, not necessarily literally wads of dollars, but you can do it electronically, you can do it safely. It is a very powerful way of empowering refugees. It is also a powerful way of bringing economic benefit to a local community for hosting refugees, because they are paying rent, they are in the shops.

The fourth and final element of this is that we have to address—win the argument, this is the point we were talking about—we have to win the argument that welcoming a small number of refugees to our own shores is a symbolic and substantive contribution to the fight against the refugee crisis.

It is—I can say this because I am not an American, I observe your politics—a real tragedy that the country that had the most successful refugee resettlement program, a bipartisan program for the last 30 years, welcoming about 90,000 refugees a year to the United States—90,000 out of the 25 million, so we are not talking big numbers, not big compared to Uganda—a tragedy that that program is being strangled, frankly. The administration said that they were going to put a cap of 45,000 rather than 90,000. Actually the figures that we published last week show that you—it is your country—are going to end up with a maximum of 15,000 refugees coming this year. It is a complete scandal.

Effectively, refugee resettlement, which means meeting the family at the airport, getting their kids into school, getting the adults into work, teaching them English, giving them a car loan—we published a paper on this, the car loan repayment rates among refugee families are higher than for American families, 98 percent of the car loans that we issue to refugees . . . People often say to me, "Well, what's different about being a refugee resettlement agency in the United States than elsewhere?" And one thing is you have to help people get cars. You do not have to do that in Europe. Ninety-eight percent of the car loans get paid back versus 88 percent of car loans for a control group.

It is a tragedy that that program is being strangled, and it is being strangled. We run 26 offices around the United States, including at West 33rd Street here and in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and it is slowing to a trickle the number of people who are being allowed in.

People often say to me: "Well, yeah, it'd be cheaper, though, just let's keep helping the refugees in Jordan. Why should we bother to have them come here?" The answer to that is: One, for some of the most vulnerable refugees, actually a new start in life is what they need. Two, it is a symbolic stand with countries like Jordan because it is one thing for the king of Jordan to say, "Yeah, America is giving me money." And then someone says to him, "Yeah, but the Americans are refusing to take any refugees." If he can say, "Well, no, actually they are stepping up, and Europe is stepping up, and others are playing their role."

Third—I am sure there are family stories in this room—it is actually good for the country. Refugees become productive and patriotic citizens because they know the price of living in a country that does not give them the freedom to think as they want and develop as they want.

My point in rehearsing those four aspects is to say that the argument that this crisis is unmanageable is actually not true. That's not just a counsel of despair, it is fake news. The truth is that it is manageable if we do some basic things in a more sensible and focused way.

I think that we should talk in the question period about whether it is possible to win the argument. I think it is possible to win the argument. It is not possible to persuade everyone, as Mrs. Merkel has shown. You can end up with 13 percent of people voting for the Alternative für Deutschland (AFD). But you can still win the election.

The absolute key is whether or not it looks like you are in control of your own country. My diagnosis of your politics is that the real poison in the refugee crisis is not just the obvious point that it is easy to demonize Muslims, it is that 11 million undocumented part of the immigration system, that running sore, that you have not had an immigration act since 1984 or 1986, has poisoned the refugee debate. [Editor's note: President George H. W. Bush signed an immigration reform act in 1990.] I think it is possible to win the argument.

Just let me finish up by saying what you all can do other than buy my book. The first thing is that your voice matters, I think. One of my reflections is that we haven't made the argument convincingly enough, and it is almost like we would say in Europe "aquí"— it has become accepted—that, "Oh, yeah, we let some refugees come in," and so the program is sound but it is not properly understood. My warning is you will not have a refugee resettlement program unless you argue for it. It needs to be argued for with congresspeople, with senators. Your voice matters.

Second, there are refugees who have arrived and are still arriving, and they need to be buddies with your grandchildren, they need explanations for how the system works, they need some English language teaching, they need to be invited to your house for dinner. Airbnb are running this thing with us where their hosts are invited to organize a dinner where they invite a refugee family. I am not an Airbnb host, but the reason I wanted—since I run the IRC—is we wanted to invite a family. So a family from Bhutan came and had dinner with us. In the end, the conversation was about their 15-year-old or 16-year-old kid and what advice could we give them about how he made school choices that would help him in the future, and they had not been able to have that conversation. So the human touch really matters.

If you are an employer, give refugees a chance to get a job with your business because they need a chance to make a success of their own lives. You do not have to guarantee them a job, but give them a chance to get a job.

Obviously, we want you to be supporters of the IRC as well. One of the reasons I took the job was that I thought IRC was not well enough known even on its home turf. It is a great New York institution. It was founded by Einstein here in 1933. It does embody some of the most precious values of New York. It speaks to the history of the city in a profound way, and we are now probably the largest NGO in New York, not including the universities and the hospitals, obviously. But we would like you to become supporters—some of you already are, I should say—of the organization because it is a real jewel in the work that it does, and it can make an argument that is fundamental to the future of the country.

Thank you very much for listening. I am very happy to have your questions.

QUESTION: Hi. Jim Traub with Foreign Policy.

So you wanted us to talk about this question of democratic consent in the question-and-answer period. I do think this is a huge issue. To take what seems like a really vivid example of this in the West, in early 2016, Europe, led by Angela Merkel, reached this what felt like a Faustian bargain with Turkey to basically block the onward movement of refugees into Europe. Merkel and other European leaders would have said, "If we don't do this, we will lose the support of our own populations, who fear that we've lost control over our borders."

Should we think of that as a cynical act which ought not to have happened, or as a kind of necessary concession to the need for democratic consent for these difficult policies?

DAVID MILIBAND: One of the things that I was taught at university that I remember, unlike much of which I have forgotten, is that whenever you are given a difficult question you should challenge the question.

In all seriousness, I would challenge your premise. The argument in Europe was not that "we have to come to a deal with Turkey or we are not going to be able to contain the anger of our own population." The argument was, "Unless we come to a deal with Turkey, we're not going to be able to manage the problem," which is a different point, with the greatest of respect.

The question is, why was Europe in the position that it was not able to manage the refugee flow in an effective way? The answer to that is rather instructive: One, in 2012-2013, when the refugees first left Syria and went to the Middle East—because we are mainly talking about Middle Eastern refugees, there are still plenty of refugees coming from North Africa, that is a zone problem into Europe—when the refugee crisis broke, Europe was focused on the euro crisis and then on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. So the European Union effectively ignored the refugee crisis until August of 2015, so it has been playing catch-up.

Second, because it is playing catch-up, it did not establish shared responsibility among the 28 countries for managing it. So the responsibility fell primarily to Greece and Italy—it was under the Dublin Regulation: wherever you first land, you have to register for asylum there—and then in Germany and Sweden, which were seen as the best places to go. The rest of Europe basically opted out, including, tragically, my own country.

You cannot run the system using just four countries rather than 28 and then trying to engineer what is called "relocation"—successful refugees being sent around Europe. It was not organizable. That was the fundamental problem that faced Mrs. Merkel in 2016. In 2015 she made her decision, and it is still the case today. It is only this year that Europe has a proper entry and exit system so that everyone who comes into the borders of Europe is actually tracked. So the third thing was that there was a security aspect to it as well that was not properly done.

I think the lesson is not that a managed flow is unacceptable to the population, I think the lesson is that either you have a managed, regulated flow of people—it does not take away the difficult choices because there is a whole different argument about the Turkey deal—or an unmanaged, unregulated flow of people. Because the pressure for them to come is going to be there anyway, and either Europe manages it in an effective way or it does not.

Fundamentally you can win a majority as long as it looks like you are in control of the situation. It is when it looks like you do not control the situation you cannot hold the center ground. That is my basic view of it.

QUESTION: Warren Hoge, International Peace Institute.

David, is there a future in convincing European publics that accepting immigrants is advantageous to their societies, fills their labor forces, which otherwise would not be filled? I am speaking because of the allure that politicians who are nativist politicians, who are anti-immigrant politicians, seem to have in places like Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, even Austria now. I take your point that you have to convince them you are controlling it, but is there a political future in convincing European populations dubious about immigration that they need immigration to keep their societies moving forward?

DAVID MILIBAND: So here's the point. First of all, immigration is different from refugees, so let's just clock that. I will answer your question about the immigration thing, but just to clock for everyone, we are talking about immigrants here and not refugees, who do have different rights than refugees. If you are a refugee, you have a right not to be sent home. If you are an immigrant, you do not have a right not to be sent home because in the case of a refugee it is not safe to be sent home. In the case of an immigrant, if you are from the former Yugoslavia, you cannot say it is not safe for you to go back to Bosnia or Serbia unless there is some particular thing of your individual case.

Here is the real thing, though. If I really had the answer, I would probably still be in politics. The real paradox of this is that countries and communities that have the most immigrants are the happiest about it. The greatest backlash against immigrants is in communities, cities, towns—towns, really, towns and villages—and countries that have the fewest immigrants. The Hungarian tragedy is an example of this, but so is the UK situation. The most integrated, diverse communities are the happiest about it. It is true here as well. The biggest backlash against refugees is the places that have hardly any refugees.

That is what makes me think that this is a manageable case. If it was the other way around—for the sake of argument, say it was the case that people who did not have immigrants in their community really loved them but those communities that did have lots of immigrants hated them. That would be a totally unmanageable political situation. But given that it is the reverse, you have to believe it is manageable.

We also have shown how not to manage it. Clearly the decision—I was in the government, although, thank god, it was not my decision; I was in the Education Ministry at the time in 2004. We decided that as part of the enlargement of European Union—the A8 countries, the eight countries that joined the European Union in 2008—we, the United Kingdom, who were barreling along economically and thought we were invincible, said, "Yeah, anyone, sure, Poland, Czech Republic, that's fine to have an open labor market." We had the option of a seven-year transitional period which would have limited the number of visas that were given, and we said, "No, we're not going to do that."

That was clearly a mistake because we had a study which said 50,000 Poles are going to arrive, and in fact 500,000 arrived. That speaks to the point about whether it looks like you know what you are doing when you are in government.

That is a long-winded way of saying I think it is an argument that can be won, but in any case it has to be won because the truth is that people are going to move, and the question is whether or not they are moving legally and in a documented way or illegally in an undocumented way.

I think it is winnable. It is a slightly different question. The review of my book in the Financial Times said, "This book is very good, but I wish he'd written a book about how to solve the following problem." The real issue is that the communities that are most angry at the moment are those that are being left behind economically. They are not only angry for economic reasons, they are also angry for social, cultural, and identity reasons. But unless we address this economic disemboweling of the lower middle class it is going to be very hard to contain the anger, and that is a separate question.

QUESTION: Susan Gitelson.

You are so full of ideas, and there are so many things we want to know more about. You have not, for example, had a chance to address the Rohingya problem. The pope went to Myanmar and was not allowed to mention their name, and there are so many of them, and they are affecting Bangladesh. What do you suggest can be done?

DAVID MILIBAND: It is a great question. I have discovered in America when you say "that's a great question," it basically means you do not know the answer. People say it quite a lot in America, I discover.

We have been working in Myanmar/Burma for 30 years. We are responsible for the health provision for 120,000 people in the Rakhine State, which is where this Muslim minority is, and we have to be very careful to serve Muslims and non-Muslims in the work that we do. Otherwise, we get into terrible difficulty. So the first thing that needs to happen is that our workers need to be able to go and do their work for the remaining Rohingya population, which they are not being allowed to do. That is a political dynamic within the government of Myanmar.

But the Pope's visit, I hope, behind the scenes is addressing this. Although he was prevented or decided or thought it was prudent not to use the word "Rohingya," I hope the deal is that he said, "If you don't sort out the access to these populations, I am going to use it." So there is politics there.

On the Bangladesh side, it is very difficult because I am afraid the history is that the Bangladeshis have not wanted to give refugee status historically to Rohingya who have been coming because there is an argument about whether or not they are Bengalis. It is sort of difficult. The point is that at the moment the government of Bangladesh is being very open to international help. It is not closing up, it wants international help, and they really need it. We are there, we have an emergency team in. We are trying to get registered, which is taking a bit of time, but it is a real time to mobilize to support the Bangladeshi government, the Bangladeshi people in dealing with this challenge.

It is also important to say to them—there is a debate going on within the country about whether or not these Rohingya should be in a particular camp, even on a particular island. All of our experience is that when you separate people from the host community they end up being a long-term "funeral home for dreams" is what I call it. So I think we have got to try to make it a win-win where it is a win for the fleeing Rohingya, but it is also a win for Bangladesh that it gets the kind of support it needs.

QUESTION: Rita Hauser.

David, in this country I am sure you have seen that refugee equals Muslim, and the focus is on that issue. Yet we have an extraordinary number of refugees coming in here from true crises, in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, right on our borders. We have sanctuary city problems, which maybe if you live in Texas, you know more about it, but you get very little knowledge or coverage here. I would be interested to know your take on that and what you are doing with that refugee problem.

DAVID MILIBAND: We have a team down in El Salvador at the moment doing some work because in that triangle of Honduras/El Salvador/Guatemala there are undoubtedly people who are fleeing for their lives, often kids, but not only kids. My very strong view is that they are as entitled to claim asylum, to claim refugee status, as anyone else, and they should be dealt with in an appropriate way.

The challenging thing for me is that I can get my head around a crisis in South Sudan where you have rival factions, you have a frozen political process, you have a set of regional and global players. It is within my understanding how you try to tackle the roots of that problem. In the El Salvador/Honduras/Guatemala situation, criminal gangs, who are effectively terrorizing local populations, that is a different root of the problem, and I would immediately say it is beyond my competence as to what is the founding solution there, what is the root solution. I think dealing with the symptom, though, you are absolutely right.

A sanctuary city is a bit of a different issue to do with undocumented immigrants, but in respect to people who are fleeing and claiming asylum, due process really needs to apply to them because they are terrorized, especially the young kids.

QUESTION: John Richardson.

You talked about whether you can make people believe that you know what you are doing or the government knows what it is doing, etc. I have lived here for 40 years, so I do not know what is going on in the United Kingdom—I will talk to you about it afterward—but the refugees who are refugees because of war or religious intolerance or whatever are a smaller group than the economic refugees. My problem in listening to all this as I grow older is that we have enough problems with the insurrections and wars and religious intolerance, etc. We have had that since the 1930s in my experience. We had millions and millions of displaced people in the Second World War before and during and afterward, we have millions of them now.

But the background to this, which nobody seems to want to deal with, is that the world population is increasing. It is increasing in particular in places like Africa, where good government is in short supply, but people are getting more and more of them. How do you deal with this background problem that whatever you do in one case because of refugees here or refugees there you have this background of, it is almost sort of like a doomsday background. How do you deal with that as a person in your position?

DAVID MILIBAND: Good questions. I pointed to three relatively short-term trends in respect to weak states, a weak and divided international system since 1979, and tumult within the Islamic world. There are two hundred-year or longer deep structural trends: one is around population, which you are right to raise; the other is around climate and resource stress, which in a way interact.

What do we know about population growth? The thing that we know more than anything else is that the poorer you are, the more kids you have. It seems paradoxical or perverse, but it is the fact. It is important not to say Africa as a whole—Africa is a big continent—there are particular parts of Africa where there are massive population issues, and the population of Africa overall is growing very significantly. But it is trackable not just to countries according to their income, but also communities according to their income.

Second, you then have a whole set of practices to do with family planning and birth control that are very vexed. They are very vexed in local culture, but I do not need to point out they are also very vexed here because one of the things the new administration here has done is ban any family planning, abortion work, etc. It is a vexed issue all around.

Our experience is that—and we work on a very micro scale, so we are trying to work with refugee populations about family planning, what we call "birth spacing" to try to give women a bit of a break between having kids. It is a very long haul. You are absolutely right to raise it.

I haven't got an easy way of saying how it is tied into the conflict nexus. I have not seen good data on that, but you are right to say it is a deep problem. I do not think it excuses us, though, from doing a whole range of other things around employment or education or resettlement that are actually good in themselves and may actually help. One of the biggest drivers against early marriage is actually getting adolescent girls into education. So the education thing is actually pretty fundamental to this.

QUESTION: Maralyn Rittenour.

I would like you to go back to what you said about Jordan and 33 percent unemployment. What in practical terms can they do coming up with jobs? Not everybody can make garments. What jobs are available to keep people in the country they have gone to?

QUESTION: Arlette Laurent.

The European Parliament is considering a €40 billion Marshall Plan for Africa to help deal with the problem of migration. What do you think of that?

DAVID MILIBAND: We did a study with McKinsey actually about Jordan's economy. The first is that there is a domestic side to this. The infrastructure needs of Jordan are huge, especially around water, but not only around water. So there is a big development there. Second, there are significant parts of the service sector that have capacity growth. Third, you mentioned garments, which is what people always talk about. Only 4 percent of Jordan's exports go to Europe, which is really very small. The diagnosis is fundamentally that there is not good matching of Jordanian companies into European supply chains. Interestingly enough, for American companies it is better.

To be fair to the European Union, there is now an agreement of zero tariff with Jordan for those companies that hire 15 percent refugees. So one of the things that we are working on is a "welfare-to-work" program for Syrian refugees to help Jordanian companies reach the 15 percent threshold, and then they benefit from the free trade access to the European market. That is not a full answer. I can put you in touch with more detailed work if it is of interest.

You are right that Europe is very interested in how it conceives its development aid to different parts of the world, including into Africa. One of my lessons, essentially if you think about the Marshall Plan, what was the Marshall Plan? It was not just a development plan. It was a political plan, and it was also a private sector plan. If the European Union means a real Marshall Plan that brings together different elements of governance—to pick up the point earlier—that does address issues to do with local conflict, that does address issues to do with economic development, that does bring in the private sector, including the indigenous African private sector, because there are 300 million people in the middle class across Africa, then you have a real chance of success.

The discussion that we are having with European—I was in Brussels last week actually talking about this—there are two things that are incredibly difficult: one is the relationship between development and humanitarian aid, which is given for humanitarian reasons or poverty reasons, and migration objectives. Our argument very strongly is that you should not be using development money to run visa systems, frontier posts, security. We must not end up cheating the development budget in order to manage the migration issue. There may be secondary benefits from helping tackle poverty in respect to migration, but they need to be kept separate.

The much more difficult thing is that the entrepôt for African migrants coming to Europe is obviously Libya, and trying to have any kind of systematic, organized, ongoing relationships there is very challenging. There are three or four different governments in the country. There is obviously an ongoing conflict in the country. You have massive profiteering out of the people trade. Getting a grip on that situation is very challenging.

QUESTION: Ed Marschner.

I would like to ask you to expand upon your point that refugees are employable. It seems to me that this is a positive factor in people's acceptance of refugees, and they often meet refugees in the workplace or schools rather than someplace else. Based on totally uninformed speculation, I would assume that refugees at least have the means to escape political persecution and war, so they have some means, they are not simply shepherds and unskilled people. Is there any study that shows that they are in fact somewhat better prepared, educated, and skilled to work than the average person in the country that is affected?

QUESTION: Helena Finn, former U.S. diplomat.

My question goes back to Germany and Turkey. Both these countries have taken in sheer numbers, enormous numbers of refugees. Do you have any comment on how they are dealing with this? Obviously we know about the rise of Alternative für Deutschland, but the status of the refugees in terms of education of children and the other things, the health care and so on, that you have mentioned, and most importantly jobs?

QUESTION: Hi, David. My name is Alex Dumouza. I actually work at the IRC office over in Elizabeth. It has been a pleasure to hear you speak for this whole hour.

DAVID MILIBAND: Thank you. Thanks for your hard work. Why aren't you at the office today?

QUESTIONER [Mr. Dumouza]: I sent them an email, don't worry.

My question goes back to what you already talked about, the digital warfare issue that definitely should be raising more eyebrows. I wanted to hear your opinion. I would be interested in hearing you speak about the rise of hate groups and the right-wing politics of this era in response to the anti-Muslim rhetoric that is overflowing and is a big part of the age of information, and what we can do not only as concerned individuals but even in terms of advocacy and reaching out to our congressional leaders and what the next step is in protecting funding for the IRC and just getting good, accurate representation of the vital work we do.

DAVID MILIBAND: Thank you. Let me do them in reverse order, starting with Alex and thanking him. What is your job with the IRC?

QUESTIONER [Mr. Dumouza]: I work in the intensive case management.

DAVID MILIBAND: Intensive case management means some of the most difficult and challenging cases of the families who have come over. He is working with them to try to help them integrate into American society. Thank you very much for your work and for your efforts, and thank you for being here. I do not resent it at all. I am sure you will do an extra hour's work tonight to make up for it.

I think there are a couple of things. The tweet that the president put out yesterday morning, I think it is really important for an American audience to understand why it has gotten such a massive reaction in the United Kingdom. There is an obvious point, and there is a less-than-obvious point maybe that has not been given proper coverage.

The obvious point is that it was a hateful, illegitimate, untrue set of videos that were demonizing fellow citizens and inciting hatred against them from a group that had been successfully prosecuted for inciting religious hatred. We have a law in the United Kingdom against the incitement of religious hatred, and this filthy group had been found guilty of it.

So that is bad enough, but the fact that a member of Parliament was killed last year by people shouting "Britain First" meant that this just went right into the sorest, rawest spot. It betrayed such little understanding—never mind sensitivity or humanity—that it just caused a complete explosion of fury, really is the only way to put it. I hope that the president understands. I put out something yesterday saying that actually he should break the habit and apologize. He would actually make himself look so much better. He does not seem to have taken my advice. I think it is important to understand quite what a chasm or a sore it has created. You cannot just say it is another tweet that does not matter, for obvious reasons.

So there is a lot of online and offline Islamophobia. My view on this is the same as with hatred that is directed toward any religious or racial group, which is that there are big responsibilities on members of that group to speak up. So it is important that people who are Muslim are able to say: "Hang on. I'm a Muslim who is a member of the American armed forces, and this is offensive to me and everything that I stand for," or "I am a Muslim who is in business" or in sports or in whatever. But one of the learnings that I had from some of the debate about anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom is that it is almost more important for people who are not Muslims to speak up about it.

One of the first reactions that came yesterday in the United Kingdom was from the Board of Deputies of British Jews attacking the demonization of Muslims. As it happens, there is a parliamentary committee in the United Kingdom on anti-Semitism, and it is headed by someone who is not Jewish. So I think that taking on hate is all of our responsibilities. That is basically my point. It is a classic where if you pass by on the other side and do not challenge it, then you are actually sanctioning it and endorsing it. It is very difficult, but that is why the chinks in the armor are so dangerous.

By the way, this "Britain First" group has gone from having 12,000 followers online to having 78,000. So actually it is the fuel that they have been desperate for.

There is a very long answer on Turkey and Germany because obviously they are different. Turkey, 2.7 million refugees, 200,000 of them in "five-star" camps that the Turks set up and which do have extensive health, education, etc.—not employment. Then for the rest of the 2.5 million it is a very varied picture. There are work opportunities. Companies have to take one for one. But there is also a lot of below-the-line work that is abusive and dangerous, so there are a lot of protection concerns.

The German situation is different. I want to be careful how I say this. It is very well organized the way the Germans have gone about this. It is incredibly impressive because 1 million asylum seekers essentially arrived. I was outside Stuttgart last month, and the smallest town—this was a town of 40,000 people—has 600 refugees who are integrating into the local society. There is a public responsibility, but there is also a private sector responsibility, schools. It is really quite impressive.

Critical to it is that the asylum-processing claim is done quickly. There are about 40-50 percent of the asylum claimants who do not qualify. It sounds slightly odd for me to say this, but if you do not qualify as a refugee, then you should not be allowed to stay, you need to be given an appropriate route back to where you came from. Otherwise, you corrode the whole basis of the system.

It is being pretty well run. Having said that, people are people, and there are always rough edges. But I think, just to pick up the point that was raised earlier, they have used the time and the pause to get themselves well organized. They need help from the rest of Europe.

Just to finish up, there are plenty of shepherds and agricultural workers among refugees, if you are from Congo or elsewhere, so it is a very mixed picture. Some are dentists and accountants and fitness trainers, but others are very unskilled.

We do, though, have evidence of how refugees do in the United States, and there is a government report—a suppressed government report, actually, it was leaked—over a 20-year period, I have in my head a $63 billion dividend for the U.S. economy as a result. So, refugees contribute more over a 20-year period than they cost in taxes and benefits. So we do have good aggregate evidence. We can build up more of it. I think the important thing for me is not to pretend, yes, everyone is going to be a software engineer, because it is not as simple as that, and obviously half of them are kids, so you do not know. But these are people who really know the cost of the terror that they have suffered, and they are prizing of the opportunity that they have been given to restart their lives, and that makes them good neighbors and good employees.

JOANNE MYERS: I thank you for a very stimulating morning.

DAVID MILIBAND: Thank you very much.

JOANNE MYERS: And the book is available.

You may also like

Child's painting. CREDIT: <a href="">Jeanbaptisteparis</a>

FEB 7, 2017 Article

Asylum in the United States for Unaccompanied Children

The current magnitude of child migration to the United States is unprecedented. How does the U.S. asylum process for unaccompanied children work? The views ...

Not translated

This content has not yet been translated into your language. You can request a translation by clicking the button below.

Request Translation