Improving Humanitarian Aid

Improving Humanitarian Aid

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David Miliband, president and chief executive officer of the International Rescue Committee, discusses the global state of humanitarian and development aid and offers recommendations for making relief more efficient and effective, as part of CFR's Academic Conference Call series.

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David Miliband

President and Chief Executive Officer, International Rescue Committee


Irina A. Faskianos

Vice President, National Program & Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York and welcome to the CFR Academic Conference Call series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the national program and outreach here at CFR. Thank you for joining us. Today’s call is on the record and the audio and transcript will be available on our website,, if you would like to share it with your colleagues or classmates.

We are honored to have David Miliband with us today to talk about efforts to improve humanitarian aid. Mr. Miliband is the president and chief executive officer of the International Rescue Committee. He oversees IRC’s relief and development operations in more than 30 countries, its refugee resettlement and assistance programs throughout the United States, and its advocacy efforts on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable people. Prior to IRC, Mr. Miliband had a distinguished political career in the United Kingdom for more than 15 years. From 2007 to 2010, he served as the youngest foreign secretary in three decades, driving advancements in human rights and representing the United Kingdom throughout the world. You can follow Mr. Miliband on Twitter at @DMiliband.

Mr. Miliband, thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us today. It is an honor. It would be terrific if you could start by giving us an overview of the current state of international humanitarian and development aid, talk a little bit about the migration crisis, and offer your recommendations for making relief more efficient and effective.

MILIBAND: Thanks very much Irina. It’s good to be with you all. I’ve been told you’re the best and the brightest of the American college scene, so I’m looking forward to your questions. The International Rescue Committee was founded by Albert Einstein in 1933 when he came to New York. And the heritage of the organization is therefore in Europe, but the focus of our work today is in the war-torn countries of the Middle East, in 17 African countries, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, also in Myanmar and Thailand, as well as the resettlement work in the United States.

I just want to address three things briefly to kick off the discussion. First of all, why is there a global refugee crisis? Secondly, what can the humanitarian sector do it about it, and especially what can it do better? And thirdly, how does the—well, how are the prospects for improved tackling of the problems at the source, because in the end the humanitarian sector is addressing symptoms of problems rather than their causes.

Just to start with some facts and figures about where we are: Last year U.N. figures show that 20 million people refugees. That means they crossed national boundaries. Forty million people were internally displaced people. This is grisly world record. It’s important to say, these 60 million people are fleeing conflict. And although there’s a lot of confusion in the debate about quote, unquote “migration,” I think it’s very helpful to hold onto the idea that refugees are a status of integrity and that the quote, unquote “well-founded fear of persecution” which defines a refugee is something that needs to be maintained.

Some people are crossing boundaries to seek a better life for economic reasons. Others are fleeting for political or reasons of safety. It’s not that one is good and the other is bad, but there are rights attendant on being a refugee from the 1951 Geneva Convention and the 1967 protocols that were attached to it. And here are responsibilities on states for refugees that aren’t matched by those who are seeking an economic better life. There’s a separate debate probably to be had about why there should be these record numbers of people fleeing, but one only has to think about the massive convulsions in the Islamic world, one only has to think about the weakness of states like South Sudan, which was formed just three years ago, is the world’s newest nation, but today can’t meet the basic needs of 4 ½ million of its 10 million citizens and is caught up in the grip of on-again, off-again violence for power.

And then third reason is that—to me, is that the international system is weaker and more divided than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Those seem, to me, to be three trends rather than three blips. I don’t see either the convulsions in the Islamic world or the weakness of about 30 to 40 states around the world, or the division in the international political system being overcome anytime soon. And that’s really the context for my second question, which is what can the international humanitarian sector and the local humanitarian sectors do in response to this level of trauma that exists around the world? I think it’s really important for you to understand that sitting, as I do, with 17,000 staff in 30 countries, what strikes me is not just that there are more people in need, but that they have different kinds of needs. Let me just explain to you.

First of all, the international humanitarian aid system is built on the idea that refugee status is short term before people either go home, or they’re relocated to third countries, or they’re integrated into the countries into which they arrive. In fact, the average refugee is out of their own country for 20 years. Second point, the expectation, the iconic image of a refugee is someone who is in a refugee camp. But today, 75 to 80 percent of refugees are not in refugee camps. They’re in urban areas or actually in rural areas. They are not reachable by the traditional service models that have been developed in the humanitarian sector.

And thirdly, the happy function underneath the international humanitarian system is that people are safe when they flee. But if you think about the situation in Syria at the moment, people—or in Iraq—people who flee from Syria to Iraq, or in some cases flee from Iraq to Syria, they may be moving to areas that are controlled not by governments who are supporting international Geneva and other conventions. They may be fleeing into the zone of insecurity because they’re under the governance of an armed opposition group.

And I think this behooves us to think not just about more aid, although that’s certainly necessary, but better aid—aid which has sharper focus in its outcomes, aid which has a much stronger evidence base to support the work, aid which isn’t just efficient but which is highly productive and achieves a high impact, and aid which also develops some breakthrough initiatives that would transform life chances. I’m thinking of things like the embrace of cash distribution as a means of empowering local people and giving them access to the local economy and contributing to the local economy. In these areas, we need—in these areas of clearer outcomes, stronger evidence, higher impacts, and breakthrough innovations—we need a different humanitarian aid sector, as well as a larger one. Just in terms of the facts, it’s striking that about—the U.N. appeals—and the U.N. does an important job in cataloguing need and then appealing for funds. They’re only about 40 to 50 percent funded if you look across the major conflict zones of the world.

 So there’s evidently a need for more humanitarian aid, but my pitch to you and the argument I outlined in the article that I wrote in Foreign Affairs, which I think has been sent to you—the June and July issue of Foreign Affairs—is that we need to improve the humanitarian aid system. And that means asking some fundamental questions about what we do and how we do it. It also means asking hard questions of donors. Just to give you one example that I highlight in the article, the humanitarian aid system, which is a crisis response system, sits alongside the development system, which is designed to tackle poverty. Now, in the real world those two spheres—the crisis zones and the poverty zones—actually overlap. Forty-three percent of the world extreme poor now live in fragile states.

But in the policy world, humanitarian spending and humanitarian institutions are too often separate from development spending and development institutions. The figure that we cite in the article is that of the 20 largest crises last year, there was about $5 ½ billion spent on humanitarian efforts and $27 billion spent on development efforts. But they didn’t really cross over. There are some nascent examples of prudent funding, for example, by the European Union in the Central African Republic. But in general, the development and humanitarian stovepipes are very separate. And this seems, to me, to be a real problem.

It’s also a problem that we—the world has just embraced sustainable development goals, which are designed to end extreme poverty over the next 15 years—but in the 17 goals and the 169 targets, there’s relatively little mention of people in conflict. There is Goal 16, which is designed to address—to promote so-called peace and tranquility, but this is much more about accountable justice systems in the words on the paper of the goals and the targets, not about the human needs of civilians caught up in conflict or fleeing from conflict. And actually, if you look across the 169 targets, there isn’t a special target for women suffering abuses in emergencies. There isn’t a special target for kids who are displaced by conflict getting an education, despite the fact that there are 300,000 Syrian kids in Lebanon today who are getting no education at all. So I am concerned that not just we have different funding stovepipes, but we’ve got different institutions thinking about humanitarian development efforts, when in fact the two come much closer together.

 A third point, just to finish off the third question I wanted to address, is obviously what are the limits of the humanitarian sector? Because the humanitarian sector can and should and does in many ways staunching the dying, but it takes politics to stop the killing. And I don’t want to minimize at all the challenge to the humanitarian sector of having many millions of people—20 million refugees, 40 million IDPs—fleeing conflict. Our ability to respond effectively to those needs is, of course, compromised by the continuing flow of people. And someone asked me, in London where I was speaking—I’m back in New York now; we’re a New York-based institution—someone asked me yesterday whether or not we could ever adequately meet the needs of refugees fleeing Syria while the war in Syria was continuing to produce refugees at such a large rate.

And the true answer is that, of course, while the flow of people is so strong it’s going to be well-nigh impossible to meet all the needs of the—of those who have fled and who have escaped to safety. And if you think about the challenges that exist in countries like Jordan, a country of 6 million people with 700,000 registered refugees, or Lebanon, a country of 4 ½ million people with about 1 ½ million refugees, you can immediately see that the overwhelming burden of handling the refugee crisis doesn’t fall on the rich countries. It falls on poorer, lower- and middle-income countries. And so I wouldn’t want to hide from you at all the need for the origins of this problem which are—these problems, which are weak international systems and a failure in some ways to tackle the roots of problems, to make the life of the humanitarian sector one that aspires to be palliative, but too often is not able to keep up with the needs as they arise.

Obviously, I’m very proud of the work that the International Rescue Committee does in the 30 countries that we work in and in the U.S. where we resettle 10,000 refugees. We think we helped about 18 million people last year. But our challenge is to help them more. And I hope that the dialogue that we’re going to have today will help inform you about that, and even help us do that. Thanks very much, indeed.

FASKIANOS: Thank you, David, very much for that overview. Let’s open it up now to the students for their questions then.

OPERATOR: At this time we will open the call for questions.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

Our first question comes from Michele Devlin with the University of Northern Iowa.

Q: Hi. Yes, I’m going to turn this over to Weston (sp), one of our students here.

Q: Hi. This is Weston (sp). And I am just kind of curious on—is there any potential benefit to the traveling of refugees, such as lots of them head to Germany where there actually is a need for more workers. And I know that many of them are skilled. So I’m just kind of curious on how big of an impact that is on Germany.

MILIBAND: Thank you, Weston (sp).

I think Germany’s an interesting case, because it’s taken a very, very strong leadership role in the last six weeks. It’s certainly true that the demographics, the aging population in Germany mean that there are skill shortages. And it’s also the case that a number of the refugees, notably those fleeing from Syria, are skilled people. I mean, I was in Lesvos, the Greek island where half of the refugees arriving in Europe are landing. And I was meeting engineering students from Damascus University. So there is a potential match there.

Of course, it’s very important to say that the obligations on states to offer security and safety to refugees applies whatever their skill level. But you’re right to notice that there may be an economic dividend. And that’s something that should correct the fallacy that—it’s easy to talk about refugees as a burden, but actually if think about the experience of this country, the United States, refugees from Albert Einstein onwards, and even before—I mean, the founders could claim to be refugees from the U.K., actually. But this country has seen massive productive contribution by generations of refugees. And so you’re right to point out that there can be an economic dividend from it.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the University of Texas, Austin.

Q: Hi, Mr. Miliband. This is Emily Whalen. Thank you so much for your talk.

I have a question for you regarding the comments you made about the difference between a refugee and a migrant. It seems like, especially with the increased flow of refugees and long-term refugees, the temporal parameters of the concept of refugee are very fluid. And I wonder if you could just elaborate a little bit on your thoughts on how we define a refugee and where they fit in for the international infrastructure.

MILIBAND: Yeah. It’s a great question. Thank you, Emily.

And a refugee is defined in international law as someone who has a, quote, unquote “well-founded fear of persecution.” And that speaks to the origins of their circumstances. And there isn’t a time limit on that. There are procedures, both for U.N. institutions like the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, and for nation-states to hold what are called determination hearings to see whether or not someone does qualify. And the kind of factors that are used are, for example, when the country’s at war. I mean, there’s a big debate in Europe at the moment about the people who are claiming to be refugees coming from the Balkans, from the former Yugoslavia. And it’s the, I think unanimous, view of the European Union that unless they are a particularly persecuted minority—for example, the Roma—then there is an obligation for them to go back to the country they came from. And that is because they are economic immigrants, not refugees.

And so you’re right to say that the length of time can mean that the country they fled from has receded, but they still retain the status of refugee. And the tragedy is they actually end up stateless, because that’s been the experience that many Palestinians have had over the last 65 years in countries like Lebanon. And so the need to—for them either to find a path to citizenship in the host country they arrive in, or to find resettlement in a country like the United States or the U.K. or elsewhere in Europe, is very important. But the simple answer to your question is that if you have a well-founded fear of persecution that causes you to leave your home and your country, then you qualify as a refugee. And that status can’t be taken away from you.

Q: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Rutgers University.

Q: Hi, yes. My name is Bridget Ceno (sp), and I’m a doctoral candidate in the Global Affairs Program.

I did some predissertation work in the country of Jordan this summer regarding enrollment rates of Syrian refugee children. And one of the complaints that was posited by officials was a worry over a lack of funding due to waning interest by donor countries. Can you talk a little bit about this? Do you feel this is a problem? And how do you keep aid coming when their interest is held elsewhere?

MILIBAND: Thanks, Bridget (sp). Great question.

You’re right, there’s a real sense in Jordan that for four years now—four and a half years they’ve been handling a massive influx of refugees. If you think about it in U.S. terms, 700,000 registered refugees in a population of 6 million, you can immediately see that it’s already more than 10 percent of the population. And if you do the figures for the U.S., that’s anything—that’s 30 or 40 million people coming to the U.S. So it is a real issue that they are not being properly supported, either on the social side on things like education—and that’s a massive complaint in Lebanon as well—and on the economic side, where the pressure on resources, infrastructure, housing, et cetera, is very real. And so I think that, in answer to your first question, yes, what you heard is correct. And the Jordanian government has now started charging for health care precise because of—amongst refugees—precisely because of the challenge for them.

Your second question was, how do you maintain interest, I think you said, sort of when the media fury passes? I think it’s a really good point, because we’re in countries like Mali or Niger, which are not in the news, but where there are large numbers of people who need a lot of help. And we can only do that by trying to spread our network, appeal to the people’s conscience, but also appeal to the notion that we’re making a difference. I think it’s very important for NGOs not just to say that there’s a big need, but also to show how they are going to meet those needs. We run health, education, women’s protection, livelihoods programs. And we do so with a very strong commitment to using the best evidence and getting the best value for money. And it always impresses people when we say that 93 cents in every dollar goes to the front line of our program.

So the truthful answer to your point is that media interest is important and media interest helps, but we also have to try to build a cadre of committed donors and supporters who look beyond the headlines. And some of the—about 85 percent of our money comes from government donors. And they should be in a position to be rather more focused on long-term issues, although I know from my own experience in government that’s not always the case.

FASKIANOS: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Robert Strong with Washington and Lee University.

Q: Hi. My name is Anna Paden Carson. I’m a senior at Washington and Lee University.

And I just had a question on, what could the United States do better with respect to the refugee crisis? And so you think that we have the resources or funding ready to take a larger role in the current crisis?

MILIBAND: Thanks for the question.

Two things that I would point to. First of all, and relatively the most straightforward thing, is for the U.S. to provide a haven for those who have lost everything and for a larger number of refugees. I think I’m right in saying that so far during the Syria crisis, about 1,800 refugees have been allowed in from Syria over the last four years. Now, historically, the U.S. has been a leader in refugee resettlement and has taken about 50 percent of the world’s resettle refugees. It takes about 70,000 out of 100,000. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that that 70,000 so-called cap on U.S. refugee numbers will go up to 100,000. That’s good, but it’s not keeping pace with the scale of the change. And it is very striking that in 1979, 1980, 1981, the U.S. was taking 150(,000), 160,000 refugees, notably of so-called Vietnamese boat people.

So there is a capacity. There’s experience in this country. And just in the case of Syria, it’s striking. There are Syrian-American communities across the country who would like to have more refugees arrive. And one practical way of doing that would be to expand the so-called family unification program, which would allow—in order to allow not just parents and children to join up, but to extend it to grandparents and cousins. And there you’ve got an even better chance of refugees becoming productive citizens, because they’d be welcome into a community. The U.S., I think, does have the capacity and the resources, not least in the successful diaspora communities that live around the country. And that’s a practical way of making a difference.

Equally, it’s very, very important to say that whether the U.S. figure is 100,000 or 200,000, in the wake of 4 million refugees—yes, 4 million refugees from the Syria crisis, it’s obviously not going to solve the problem. And so there is a—if you want to stick to the humanitarian sector, I think there’s a very strong case for the U.S. to convene a much more significant global coalition to support the economic and social renewal of the countries who are bearing the greatest burden of the refugee crises around the world. That’s the four countries surrounding Syria—Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq. It’s Afghanistan and Pakistan joined together. Pakistan has a large number of Afghan refugees. It’s Thailand, which has a large number of Burmese refugees.

And then it’s a series of African countries who are bearing the brunt of the wars that are taking place in Congo, in Nigeria, its civil wars, in South Sudan. I know that countries like Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, who—Tanzania, who just received a large number of refugees from Burundi. So those countries need a cohesive and effective international effort that is medium term, not short term. And the U.S. is well-placed to do that as a very large humanitarian donor. People like me would argue that the U.S. should do more on the international funding front, but it also has a bigger political role as a convener of global coalitions, including other wealthier countries, including in the Gulf, who I think could make a much greater contribution.

FASKIANOS: Thank you, next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Munk School of Global Affairs.

Q: Hello. My name is Victoria (sp). I’m a graduate student at the master’s Global Affairs Program here.

I have a question about the recent reports of violence that have been going on in Germany in some of the refugee locations and camps. And I’m wondering, it’s been a lot of times reported it’s been between different ethnic groups and religious groups. And I’m wondering what you think Germany should be doing differently, maybe if they should take the playbook from the Kenyan refugee camps where they initially kind of divided people based on ethnicity and religion, or if you think that would actually be a mistake?

MILIBAND: Thank you, Victoria (sp). I mean, I think that I’m not able to give you detail on the German situation. Although it’s striking; in contrast to what you’ve said, there’s a story on the front page of The New York Times which you can read today about how Stuttgart, which is a country (sic) of 600,000 people, has a long history of welcoming refugees, and it’s working well. I haven’t seen the references to violence that you’re referring to, whether that’s violence between host populations and refugees or violence of a different kind, between refugee groups.

I mean, the Kenya experience that you’re referring to might be either in respect to the Dadaab Refugee Camp in the east of the country or there’s also refugee camp in the northeast of the country. The one in the east is dealing with Somali refugees. And I think many people would be extremely worried about using that as a model. It’s been—it’s a huge camp. It varies between 400(,000) and 600,000 people. There are major concerns the Kenyans have about security. And there’s a very large question about whether or not it’s a sustainable solution.

And so I would—I think the trend, myself, to refugees being less likely to be in camps is actually a good thing, not a bad thing. There’s more scope—although there can be dangers in being in urban areas—there’s more scope to living and to be a productive member of society. But it’s a difficult balance. It’s tougher for organizations like us to reach refugees in urban areas, where they’re obviously not so easy to find. But I think for anything other than short term, a camp existence threatens to become a way of life.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from The New School.

Q: Hi. I’m Emily Hwang and I’m a senior studying global studies at The New School.

So you mentioned that humanitarian aid should be separate from development because they overlap so strongly. And seeing as the IRC is an emergency relief organization rather than development organization, do you see the IRC as beginning to bridge that gap? And can you provide us with concrete examples of that happening today?

MILIBAND: Thanks. I mean, we help—thanks, Emily.

We help people, as we say in our mission statement, to survive, recover, and gain some control of their lives. And we have very clear entry and exit criteria. The entry criteria for are threefold. Is there a crisis or the threat of crisis in the country? Secondly, is there significant poverty and vulnerability? And thirdly, is there sufficient local or international capacity already there that we don’t want to duplicate? If we conclude that there is the threat of a crisis or in fact a crisis, that there’s real poverty and vulnerability, and that there’s a niche for us, the new go in. And we leave when the indicators are pointing in the right direction, when the crisis or the threat of crisis has receded, when the poverty and vulnerability indicators are going in the right direction, and when there is sufficient local capacity.

So we didn’t deploy to Nepal, for example, after the earthquake, because we thought there was sufficient local capacity. We’re not deploying in Italy at the moment because they have sufficient local capacity. We are deploying in Greece, because they don’t have that capacity. And so we’ve quite a level of experience going into places. Sadly, there are fewer places that we leave. But there are examples of us leaving. Some of them have to do with the fact that we—our staff were under threat, which happened in Ukraine. But elsewhere, there are good examples of where we feel we’ve done our work, where stability has been achieved, and where it’s the job of development players, anti-poverty organizations rather than crisis organizations, to move in.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Syracuse University.

Q: Hi. My name is Gretchen (sp). I am Master’s, and I am a student here at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.

I wanted to ask a question relating to your points on efficiency and productivity and humanitarian assistance. Specifically, I wanted to ask if you could provide us with any specific examples about what IRC is doing to put those goals into practice.

MILIBAND: Yeah, thanks, Gretchen (sp).

We have good measures—the humanitarian sector has quite good measures of efficiency. I gave you the figure that 93 cents of every dollar goes to programs. What that doesn’t tell you is what’s the impact of the money. And that requires you to know how much input is going into a particular program, and it requires you to measure the outcome—not just the output, but the outcome. So instead of just measuring the number of teachers you get trained, eventually you’d like to be able to know, well, how many kids actually learned to read?

Now, we’re at the early stages in that, but we’re determined to start benchmarking different practices to see how much they cost and what they achieve. And so we’ve found so extensive work in health care, but also in women’s protection to try to designate and isolate what the input cost is and what the outcomes were. It’s difficult to do it, because you don’t want to be too short-termish. What I can report to you is that we find already quite large variations in input cost and in outcome. So at the moment, we’re at the stage of trying to figure out why that’s the case. Does it just reflect local conditions or are there other reasons for it?

But my aim is that we are supporting high-impact programs in the most efficient way. And it’s not going to be a quick fix, this, but I think it’s an exciting thing to do.

Q: Thanks.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes the University of Southern California.

Q: Hey, good morning. This is the Chase Milstadt (sp) from the Price School. I’m a graduate student.

I had a question about the processing system for the refugees. So I’ve seen a lot on the news about refugees fleeing into the countries very near Syria and Iraq, and running into lines with the U.N. to adjudicate their claims that are years long. And I’m wondering if there’s any room where the NGO community could help process those, or help support people while they wait in those lines?

MILIBAND: I think—I mean, I’m happy to be corrected if you’ve got evidence the other say—but I think the years of lines that you’re talking about are people queuing to get resettled. It’s relatively fast to get a certificate of the fact that you are a refugee. What’s much, much tough and what is, frankly, completely blocked up is the opportunities for resettlement. And it is the case in Jordan that the Jordanian government says there are large numbers of unregistered refugees. But I think if there was a U.N. official here, they’d have pretty good statistics on the number—on how quickly a refugee can get registered. But that’s all you get. And remember, as a registered refugee, your entitlements are pretty limited. You’re not allowed to work in Jordan at the moment. And your World Food Program voucher is worth $13 a month. So it’s a pretty bitter existence that you’ve got. And that’s, obviously, what’s driving a lot of people to work in the informal economy, et cetera.

There’s one other thing that I’d wanted to say earlier in response to a question, I think it was from one of the Emilys, but it may not have been. It may have been from someone else, who asked me about resettlement. And I forgot to make the point that it’s wholly legitimate for people to want there to be effective security screening for anyone resettling into a country, but that has to be done in an efficient way as well, because at the moment the U.S. rightly takes its security vetting seriously, but it takes so long that it in fact defeats the purpose of trying to have a refugee resettlement program. I think it’s worth making that amongst your point, Chase, because the—even for those who survive the queue or the line, as you say in America, to get to a resettlement offer, then have to wait for the security vetting.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)

Our next question comes from Stockton University.

Q: Hi. My name is Jennifer Holland (sp). I am studying political science with a concentration in prelaw at Stockton University.

And I wanted to know, what are your thoughts for how to reconcile a new sustainable development framework with humanitarian emergencies and humanitarian aid?

MILIBAND: Thank you, Jennifer. I’ve got to ask you, where is Stockton University?

Q: Southern New Jersey.

MILIBAND: Ah, you’re next door—you’re close by. Nice to know that.

So the new sustainable development framework I think has set a very ambitious set of challenges. And my very direct response to your question is that the World Humanitarian Summit, which has been called by the secretary-general of the U.N. next April or May, has a very key responsibility in taking that sustainable development framework and then defining five or six key outcomes for civilians caught up in conflict. Those are the outcomes like the number of kids who are going to be in education, or the number of women who are going to get post-trauma counseling and support. And I would call those floor targets. In other words, they’re the minimum that you’re going to aspire to for the most vulnerable.

And in my experience, first of all as an education minister and then other responsibilities in government, shows that as well as focusing on the average, it’s vital to focus on the most vulnerable. And those caught up in conflict are the most vulnerable. And so I would argue very strongly that these floor targets are the way to discipline and hold accountable international donors and international NGOs for delivering for the most vulnerable. And that’s, I think, the key thing for the sustainable development goals.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from NYU Wagner.

Q: This is Gabrielle Plum (sp), a graduate student at NYU Wagner.

I’m curious to know what your thoughts are on the proposal of the president of the European Commission, which is also supported by Chancellor Merkel, to implement EU-wide quotas for each country in the European Union to take a share of displaced people that is proportionate to the size of their population?

MILIBAND: Yeah, I support that. Actually, just to be—without wishing to be pedantic about it—the proposal of the president of the European Commission is for all countries who are not—who are part of the Schengen free movement zone, which is all European countries except for Denmark, Ireland and the U.K. And it happens I have said publicly that I think the U.K. should be part of the system. But the precise proposal that’s come forward doesn’t impose obligations on the three countries I’ve mentioned.

Now, I am—the U.K. has said it will take 4,000 refugees a year from Syria. And I’ve argued that that should be higher, commensurate with the U.K.’s history but also with its capacity and its population. Now, but in short, I support what the European Commission is doing. The truth is that they’re about a year or two late to the game and they’re having to scramble to catch up. But from having an absolutely feeble response until the last couple of months, the European bureaucracy has been jolted into action. And I welcome strongly the European Commission’s proposal.

I also strongly welcome the discussion that they’re having with Turkey at the moment about how to do more in the country, both to improve the condition of refugees in Turkey and to establish an effective processing system. It’s in the absence of a legal route to refugee status, you end up empowering the smugglers. And any of you who’ve seen the newspapers or the TV over the last couple of months will have seen the pictures of people in dinghies. The smugglers who are organizing those dinghy rides are making 60,000 euros per ride. They’re charging 1,200 euros for people to get on those dinghies. And so the fact that the European Commission is getting serious about legal routes and the hope of legal routes I think is very positive.

What do you think about it? You’re a graduate student, what do you think?

FASKIANOS: Operator, please open up her line.

OPERATOR: One moment, please.

MILIBAND: I think it was Gabrielle (sp).

FASKIANOS: At Stockton University.

MILIBAND: No, it was NYU Wagner.


OPERATOR: NYU Wagner, your line is now live.

Q: Hi. So I agree with the proposal. I think that the EU and Europe really should step up in this process, and they also have the power to put pressure on other countries, like the U.S. and Canada, Brazil, to also step up. But I think the effort need to start with the EU.

MILIBAND: Good. OK, thanks.

Q: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: OK, next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Howard University.

Q: Hi. Good afternoon. My name is Yuri Vandeamen (ph). I’m an original Dutch exchange student.

And to refer back to the process which is going on right now in Europe, and especially in the Netherlands as well, refugees coming into the Netherlands at the moment, they are actually benefitting more than local Dutch persons at the moment. So Dutch persons who are—who are actually living underneath the poverty line are benefitting less than refugees who don’t even have Dutch nationality. So how do you think this is possible? And what does the Dutch government or the humanitarian aid has to do about this?

MILIBAND: Thanks for the question. I think that raises a question about the way the Dutch welfare state works rather than about what refugees—yeah, and I’d be interesting in having a closer look at the figures, and whether or not it counts kids’ education, whether it counts the housing, whether it counts health care, or how it counts those things. But obviously the founding—one of the founding principles of our work around the world is that the engagement and integration with the host population is essential, and the minimization of resentment is also important. That’s why in many places around the world we work opening our health centers to local people as well as to refugees, and not sidelining or allowing stigmatizing of refugees.

Now, I think I’m right in saying that the Dutch welfare system is based on a social insurance principle. And I’d be interested in what category of the people are—you say are below the refugee level, because I would presume it must be those who have never made any contributions. And as I say, I think that says more about the relationship between means testing and social insurance and European welfare than it does about the conditions of refugees.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the University of Southern Mississippi.

Q: Hello. My name is Todd Barry. And I just want to say, this is a great honor being able to speak with you, Mr. Miliband.

MILIBAND: Thank you, Todd. That’s a very nice thing to say.

Q: Thank you. First, can refugees present a potential threat to terrorism in the future? And what can we do to prevent this? And I know you had talked a little bit about security vetting earlier on. And second, what is the future of the Dublin Rule, I believe it is called, about the first countries that the refugees reach?

MILIBAND: Thanks, Todd. Two great questions.

I mean, the truth is that if you want to come and commit terrorism in the United States, it’s harder to get here as a refugee than any other mechanism, other than swimming across the Atlantic. So the honest truth is that anyone who wants to come here and cause trouble, they’re not going to come as a refugee. They’re going to come as a tourist, or as a student, or in some other form. The security vetting that goes on for refugees is massive and extensive by comparison with any other kind of vetting that happens. That doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t be vigilant, but that that’s the situation. And it’s obviously important to guard against dangers, but the successful refugee communities around the country I think give you a sense of what can be contributed. I think we should be very open and upfront and not in the least bit denigrating the perfectly sensible questions that people ask about what the security vetting is. But as I say, it’s voluminous.

Second, interesting question about the Dublin Rule. Just for the benefit of others, the Dublin Rule, as you say, was inaugurated—it’s actually a convention rather than a rule. So it doesn’t have a status in international law. It stated that people had to claim asylum in the countries they first landed. The truth is, it was overwhelmed by the fact that over the last couple of years, Greece and Italy have borne so many of the European refugees. And my own view about the future is that if Europe gets a grip on the refugee processing system, if the war in Syria and elsewhere are brought to—if the levels of violence are reduced and the refugee flow reduces, it’s possible that the Dublin Convention will come back. But obviously the proposal—European Commission proposal that the previous caller asked about in terms of distributing refugees around Europe replaces the Dublin Convention.

And as I say, I don’t see it coming back soon, because it ends up putting too much burden on a small number of countries. And I think that’s—it also incentivizes them, by the way, not to register refugees. It incentivizes them to just push them through to other countries. And I think if you believe in a more organized approach, as I do, then it would be—it would be foolish to pretend that it’s going to come back soon. But there are conditions if the European situation comes under control where it might come back.

Q: Thank you.


FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Washington and Lee University.

Q: Hello, this is Sandy. I’m a faculty member here.

And my question has to go back to the relationship between development aid and humanitarian aid. There are some, and most recently as far as I know Princeton economist Angus Deaton wrote a book, “The Great Escape,” where he says development aid is not only ineffective, but that it actually harms—that it props up brutal and corrupt leaders and is undemocratic. And I wondered if you could comment on that, how you feel about it. And if he has a point, do you think that the development aid is working as cross purposes from humanitarian aid?

MILIBAND: Thank you, Sandy.

I’d say two things. First of all, it’s very, very important—and this is a lesson, I think, for all of you who are students and, dare I say, it’s what your faculty members tell you, I would hope, which is that you can’t answer a question like the one Sandy has posed in general. You’ve got to answer it in more specifics. And the truthful answer is that some development aid has gone wrong. Some of it has fallen into the wrong hands. Some of it has led to corruption. But there’s also equal and opposite cases of extensive development aid that’s been not just the difference between life and death, but it’s allowed countries to get on their own two feet and make a difference.

Remember, the biggest development aid program the world’s ever seen—I don’t know if you would accept this, Sandy—the biggest development program the world’s ever seen was the Marshall Plan for Western Europe after the Second World War. And it was a major contributor the rebuilding of Western Europe. Now, just a point one, you’ve got to deconstruct your question. You got to take it in bite-sized chunks and recognize that some aid goes wrong, some aid goes right, a lot of it depends on whether it’s local, whether it’s national, whether it’s big projects or small projects. We’ve done a lot of work in Afghanistan where there have been big problems with corruption relating to big infrastructure projects. We work in local communities and have spent a lot of money in a very non-corrupt way. So that’s the first thing.

The second thing I think is really important and really is a change relates to your question—the second question, which is about whether or not development aid is at cross purposes with humanitarian aid. What I would say is the context of development aid has changed because of the staggering levels of economic growth that are being achieved in emerging markets. The emerging—developing economies are now ones where the growth rate doesn’t just outstrip the Western world, the—I’m pretty confident I’m right in saying that the level of remittances, never mind the level of economic growth, is many times the levels of overseas aid for Africa. So people often talk about overseas aid for Africa as if it was the only source of economic support that Africa’s getting. In fact, remittances—in other words, money being sent back by diasporas from wealthier countries—is three times the level of development aid. And economic growth is many-fold greater than the levels of development aid.

And I think that the big—the big test now is now to make economic growth more inclusive in poor countries, because the burden of international aid programs needs to shift from developing stable states, which are poor, to crisis-ridden unstable states where there’s poverty and conflict. And obviously, that could be seen as a self-serving argument, because I’m running a humanitarian aid organization, but I actually think it speaks to the reality, which is that the biggest drivers of economic—of attacking poverty around the world are economic growth and remittances rather than international aid. And so I hope that’s a clear answer to your question.

Q: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)

Our next question comes from The New School.

Q: Hello. My name is Vergelle Achtenkala (ph) and I’m a global studies major at The New School.

You mentioned earlier that average refugee’s out of the country for 20 years. And this summer I had the opportunity to visit a Congolese refugee camp in Rwanda that’s been operating for 18 years. And in the face of decreased interest of international community leaders means a shrinkage of food assistance, very poor education facilities, basically the refugees are left to their own devices, with no citizenship, forbidden to seek employment or to leave the camp, with no incentive for growth. And my question is, what are the solutions for protracted refugees when there’s no more media attention or pressing incentives to be involved?

MILIBAND: Thanks. That’s a good question. I didn’t quite catch your name.

But it relates to one of the first questions that was asked. I mean, I haven’t visited the camp that you’re talking about in Rwanda, but I have visited refugee camps for internally displaced people in Congo on the other part of the border, if you just picture it, Rwanda and DRC, Democratic Republic of Congo, are neighboring states. Now, I think the direct answer to your question is that there are really three parts of the resolution to the people you’re talking about. One, is the ability to go home. And that relates to the situation in Congo which depends where they’re from in Congo, defines whether or not they can go home. Secondly, whether or not they get resettled into a third country. And thirdly, and probably the majority, they need to become productive citizens in Rwanda, which is a country with strong economic growth and good prospects.

Now, there’s a huge amount of politics associated with anything that looks like a right to work. And you just think about the debates in Europe or here about that. But it strikes us that refugees—that while an asylum seeker, you can see the argument about whether or not they should work—for a refugee the chance of work is a lifeline. And I think that’s going to have to be a bit part of the answer to this, because it’s a fallacy—as any of you who have studied economics would know—it’s a fallacy to believe a new member of a population is going to be taking a job away from someone else. A new member of a population is contributing work, contributing taxes, and contributing to overall demand. And that’s a vital argument that needs to be made and remade. And so I think that that is the only—if you don’t have a local integration option, it’s very hard to see how you’ll get a resolution.

I think we’re down to the last couple of questions, aren’t we?

FASKIANOS: Yes, we are.

Q: The thing is that Rwanda is a (densely ?) populated country. They can’t come back.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from North Broward Preparatory School.

Q: Yes. Good afternoon. Thank you for taking our call. This is Charles Gleek, and I teach global politics here at North Broward Prep.

We have a question regarding the politics of education, specifically the challenges at the local and national level for educating primacy school students and secondary school students. And how is the—how is the IRC working with governments and other international organizations to facilitate education for displaced children and refugee children?

MILIBAND: That’s a great question. And we’d love your prep school to somehow partner with us to spread some of the benefits of education, because we see education as a lifeline, not as a luxury. It’s the first thing that parents want for their kids when they are in safety. And our experience I think could be distilled with sort of two things being absolutely vital. The first is that you cannot rely solely on the local state. You’ve got to have community-based alternatives. And our—we call it the healing classrooms approach. Our approach is based on refugees becoming teachers of refugee kids. And we have an adaptive curriculum. We have special ways of learning. We have really good evidence about what works. And so we’re very much—our education provision is very much community based and community led.

The second thing is that you are absolutely right to say that any community based alternative has to be closely integrated and accepted by the local government. We work more with local government than with national government. And so there are mayoralties all over Lebanon with whom we’re trying to work. And in Sierra Leone and Liberia we also work in local communities with local mayors. And that level of acceptance from representatives is what— from representative government as well as from people, is very, very important. It’s tough, though. I have to tell you that it’s very hard to make the—to persuade big, international bureaucracies that community-based education is the way to go, because they focus immediately on getting the local states to do everything.

And our experience is that however good the local state is—I mean, in Lebanon they’ve opened up a so-called second shift in education. So there Lebanese kids alongside Syrian kids. But the best one in the world, the Lebanese state is never going to be able to take all those kids. You’re going to need some community-based supplements or complements to it. It’s interesting also to note that in Lebanon the teaching is done in French as well as Arabic. There are sort of major issues there. Never mind the massive politics in Lebanon, we have a confessional divide—or divides, plural, that exist in the country. But education is a really important part of our offer. We’re a multisector organization that doesn’t just do health care or doesn’t just do survival.

For us, education’s really vital. And we’d love to build a coalition and build a family. And I hope that all of you who are listening to this—to this—I don’t know what it is. It’s not really a podcast, but it’s a conference call—

FASKIANOS: Conference call.

MILIBAND: Will visit the IRC—conference call—will visit the IRC website at and get in touch with us if you think there are ways that you can help.

FASKIANOS: Great. I think we have time for one last question.

OPERATOR: Our final question comes from Brigham Young University.

Q: Hi. Yes, my name is Mitchell (sp).

And I would like to ask sort of on that note of, what is it that we can do today as college students to sort of get involved in helping with the refugee crisis?

MILIBAND: Mitchell, you’re a man after my own heart. Every ex-politician loves a question like that. So I would have—whatever the question was, I would have tried to answer it in the following way. And I’m very grateful to you for asking it. And I can also commend the fact that IRC has an office in Salt Lake City—a vibrant office in Salt Lake City that is doing refugee resettlement.

And so there are three things that I would like you to do. The first is I’d like to you to all figure out which is your nearest IRC office, because you can be a volunteer, a mentor to some people that we are resettling across the United States. And so wherever you are, there’s a role for you to play as a volunteer or as a mentor with the local offices. We’re in 26 U.S. cities. The second thing that you can do is that you’re welcome to send me your ideas and your reflections on what more we can do or what things we can do differently. You can email me at [email protected].

And the third thing that you must promise me that you’ll do is that you’ll go to the richest person you know and ask them to make a major donation to the IRC. I’d be extremely grateful if you did that. Private donations are only 15 percent of our total funds, but they give us the vital flexibility to respond on a really effective and flexible way. So all of you must know someone who’s wealthy. I don’t presume all these college students are rolling in money yourselves. But if you go to the wealthiest person you know and say, look, there’s a real way of making a difference for the world—one of the world’s biggest global crises, I would be extremely grateful. And that’s three ways in which you can help us.

FASKIANOS: Well, David, thank you very much for this terrific call. I’m sorry that we couldn’t get to all the questions, but we have reached the end of our time. So we really appreciate it. We really appreciate the work that you’re doing at the IRC. And I encourage you all to go there, to for resources on our website, and to follow Mr. Miliband on Twitter at @DMiliband.

Our next call will be on Thursday October 22nd from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. Katherine Marshall, senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center will discuss the intersection of religion and global affairs. And you can also follow us on Twitter at @CFR_Academics for information on new CFR resources and upcoming events. So thank you all again for today’s participation and to you, David Miliband.

MILIBAND: Thanks very much, indeed, everybody. Thank you.


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