The Migrant Crisis in Europe

Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Dominic Ebenbichler/Reuters
Gregory A. Maniatis

Senior European Policy Fellow, Migration Policy Institute 

Nancy E. Lindborg

President, United States Institute of Peace

Susan F. Martin

Professor and Director, Institute for the Study of International Migration, Georgetown University 

Nancy Lindborg, president of the United States Institute of Peace, and Gregory A. Maniatis, senior European policy fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, join Susan F. Martin, professor at Georgetown University, to assess the current state of the escalating migration and refugee crisis in Europe. The panelists consider the effect the crisis is having on European Union integration, noting the sharp differences in how different European states have respond to the influx of refugees and migrants. They further discuss shifting public opinion on the issue of migration and refugees in Europe, and the absence of a pan-European policy approach to the issue.

MARTIN: Good morning. Thank you for joining us.

I’m Susan Martin. I’m on the faculty of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, where I also direct our program on international migration, and refugee and humanitarian issues. And I’m really grateful to the Council for holding this session on the asylum/refugee crisis in Europe and beyond.

And I’m particularly delighted to be joined on my right by Gregory Maniatis, who is a senior European policy fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, and very importantly is also the most senior adviser to Sir Peter Sutherland, the secretary-general’s representative on internal—on international migration—brings tremendous perspective to the issues from both vantage points.

And then on my immediate right is Nancy Lindborg, who’s the president of the U.S. Institute for Peace, before coming to USIP was the most senior official within USAID on humanitarian issues, and before that was president of Mercy Corps—so has had very long and distinguished career working on refugee issues.

We’ll be having a conversation of sorts about the issues for the first half of the hour, and then we’ll switch to taking questions from the audience. And I understand we’re joined by others who are following the conversation through the teleconference, and certainly welcome their participation in this meeting as well.

But, Gregory, maybe you can start us off with a little bit of background about just what is happening in Europe. And where do we stand today? I think most of the people in this audience are following the news on this issue, but you sort of, in a way, have an insider’s view of it.

MANIATIS: Sure, sure. And first of all, thank you, and thank you to the Council for having me. And thank you for joining us.

I will assume that you know the basics, that we are this year in the midst of a very significant crisis that is humanitarian and political in Europe. As of this morning, I think the latest data shows that 384,000 mostly desperate asylum-seekers fleeing conflicts have crossed the Mediterranean, dangerously. Many thousands have died.

So in the midst of that, you have the backdrop of the European Union, and it’s trying to take collective action. And, as you know, that collective action has, apart from a moment in April when there was a decision to rescue people at sea—which was successful, for the most part—that collective action effort has failed. Today we have a summit of interior ministers in Europe. Tomorrow we have a summit of heads of state. And again, the signature policies that the European Union will try to advance I think will also fall short.

I thought also perhaps it would be useful to give a broader perspective on this crisis—not just what it means in terms of migration, but what it means for Europe. I’ve been involved over the past 10 years in the three signature crises of Europe. I’m not taking the blame for them—(laughter)—I’m just saying that I’ve been very passionately involved in the Greek debt crisis—I’m Greek; in the crisis over Russia, Georgia, and Ukraine; and now this. And this, from my vantage point, is by far the most divisive and dangerous of the three crises for Europe.

And it’s worth reflecting just for a minute on why that is. Partly, it’s a function of the cumulative effect of those crises. You have had tremendous strain put on interstate relations over Greece and over Russia. So now this third crisis comes along and it shows the limits of European Union integration. The low-hanging fruit of integration have been picked. The harder issues—foreign policy, finances, identity—are now being confronted, and Europe is falling short.

And the second cumulative effect is on domestic politics. You had the mainstream under quite a lot of pressure after the financial crisis. The Greek debt crisis has given birth to the hard left in Spain and in Greece, and has to some degree supported other left-wing parties throughout Europe. But now comes the migration crisis, the refugee crisis, and you see a very significant shift in support to the far right. It’s a broader effect across Europe. For instance, in Sweden, which has been the most progressive and the most moderate of countries when it comes to the migration debate, the far-right Sweden Democrats went from 10 percent support in January to 25 percent support today. They’re the biggest party now in Sweden. So you have a cumulative effect on the domestic politics that has been pretty much crushing the mainstream and altering the mainstream. You have mainstream parties adopting what would have been hard-right policies when it comes to asylum and migration.

So that’s one, I think, difference with this crisis, is that it’s now coming on top of the other two. The other, I think, significant difference is that, while there were very vigorous elite debates in Europe over the Greek debt crisis and the Russia situation—and while many people had opinions about the Greek debt crisis, and whether Greeks were lazy or hardworking or not, or corrupt—it wasn’t a deeply-held, emotional debate. This is. Everyone in Europe is responding to what they see, and they’re responding in different ways.

I try to remind people that I don’t think that the world is divided into pro-migration and anti-migration camps. I think that there is a sense of pro-migration and anti-migration in all of us. So you’ve seen Europeans whipsaw between different emotions over the course of the past few months. When you see the picture of the little boy limp on the beach, dead, you have one emotion of a tremendous generosity. But then there’s the fear of terrorism, there’s the stirring up of Islamophobia by Orban and others.

And so you have, right now, this molten emotion in Europe, and we don’t know how it’s going to harden. It could harden in the direction that I think Chancellor Merkel was trying to take Europe, which it to accept diverse societies. Or it could harden in a much more closed, Fortress Europe type of place that would lead potentially to the disintegration of Europe.

MARTIN: Nancy, a lot of the attention is on Europe, but it’s clearly not the only place where we have refugee crises or even necessarily the worst place that we have refugee crises. Would you put all of this into a bit of more global context?


So on the other side of the Mediterranean, where you have the source of the refugees, we’re going into or we are well into the fifth year of the Syrian crisis. And I think people are well aware of the degree to which that crisis has metastasized through the region and really saturated it with a refugee burden that is unimaginable in Europe or in this country, where one in four people in Lebanon is now a Syrian refugee—one in four. And I was just in Irbil, in northern Iraq, a few days ago, where one in five people are either a Syrian refugee or a displaced Iraqi from the recent wave of ISIS violence. And so, when we look at those numbers, it—the European crisis really pales in comparison, and these are in countries that are very weak politically. They have quite precarious—as in the case of both Jordan and Lebanon, very precarious demographic balances, and they’re economically quite weak. And Iraq, because of the oil prices—they’re down 40 percent—they are with—they have 40 percent of their budget for this year in falling revenues. So it’s quite a precarious situation there.

The second point I would make is that, for many of these refugees, they have been in camps or in urban settings with depleted savings, with assistance that is starting to fall because of a global rising need of humanitarian assistance and not a global rising amount of donor funding. And so World Food Programme just announced, for example, that they were cutting food to 360,000 Syrian refugees, which is, you know, almost the amount that has gone to Europe. There is not education for many, many of the children of the refugees and of the displaced. And there is often no opportunity to work, both because of policies in the host communities that forbid refugees to work, and also because all of these economies are fairly weak and there’s, in fact, job competition, even within Iraqis, Jordanians, and Lebanese. In Turkey, of course, there’s the added disadvantage of the language barrier.

And so into about this year, with lives interrupted and hopes dashed and dreams deferred, there is, in my mind, little mystery why people are making a dash for a window that has opened up in the West, where there is this hope of a better life for themselves and for their children. And the calculations that they’re making in terms of the risks to themselves and their children, as the photograph of Aylan Kurdi showed us, shows you how terrible their lives are right now.

I would make a third point, which is the Syrian and Iraqi crisis is a part of a global high in terms of numbers of displaced. We have the highest recorded number of people displaced, either internally or as—across borders—displaced from their homes due to conflict—that has ever been recorded. It’s somewhere between 58 and 60 million people—60 million people, which is equal to the entire population of Italy, roughly, as if that entire country were forced out of their homes. And so if you look at—they’re coming into Europe not only from Syria, but also from places like Afghanistan, Eritrea, and they’re coming from places that have long-term conflicts, repression, weak and illegitimate governments. And that is something that we all really very much need to pay attention to.

This, unfortunately, is eclipsing many other crises around the world, like Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, Central Africa(n) Republic. But all of this is putting an enormous strain on the humanitarian system, which then creates further strain on our ability to provide assistance in the region. And I’m happy to talk a bit more about the ways in which we’re caring for these refugees as if it is a short-term problem, and it’s not. No one’s going home soon, and it is really pushing against the humanitarian system and pushing against our basic—some of our basic assumptions about how you address that.

But the bottom line for me is a fervent hope that this crisis in Europe doesn’t take us down the Europe conversation such that we forget about the focus in the region where the source of the problem is. And after five years where we’ve become a little bit numb to these escalating numbers, how do we refocus attention, creative solution, and resources on solving those problems?

MARTIN: OK, I want to come back to that. I was in Beirut just a few months ago also, and you know, the figure you gave is so clear that having to address the problems of when 25 percent of your population are refugees. And the impact on the Lebanese is tremendous. Schools are now in double and triple shifts in order to be able to accommodate the new students. It means the Lebanese students or the Jordanian students are getting a lot less education. So I think we do need to see what may also be some of the rippled effects of the inattention being paid.

But let me go back for a minute, though, to you, Gregory. You’re talking about the tremendous impact that this is having, not just on the refugees but on Europe itself, and the failures so far. But what are some of the things that Europe could be doing right now.

MANIATIS: Sure. Sure. It was really interesting to see what happened back when this first broke out in April. The weekend of April 18th and 19th, 800 people died, and the European Union responded really quickly. And as I mentioned, they deployed naval vessels and they had reduced by the summer the death rate to a faction of what it was, a small fraction of what it was.

But then they made a couple of decisions which were really puzzling. They made a decision, that was also unanimously backed, to launch a military operation in the Mediterranean. They focused on Libya. We’ve forgotten this now because, back in May, it was all about the Security Council and getting authorization to use force in the Mediterranean and go after smugglers, and we were going to disrupt their business model. And it never happened because within weeks the smugglers moved to Turkey, which is not a failed state. And the theory about how we’re going to solve this—the silver bullet theory—failed. And you have to wonder, you know, why the Europeans got it so wrong, and I think partly it’s because everybody wants the simple solution. They want the one idea that will stop the crisis. So that was the military mission.

Then the next big idea was the idea of quotas—which I think are a good idea, but they’re not going to solve the problem. And we spent this summer totally consumed about the idea of whether Hungary would take 300 or 600 refugees, and that blew up European politics for the whole summer.

In all of that, they forgot to do the basic things, which was what the public wanted them to do. They didn’t want to have a sense of chaos, of people hurtling over European borders, destitute, as I said earlier, evoking both positive and negative emotions. When there’s an earthquake in Pakistan, we can deploy assistance within a few weeks to house half a million people. Why were we so hesitant to do that on the Greek islands, and instead gave this reality show for European publics all summer long of people, destitute, making long marches across the Greek islands to get processed? It was a kind of madness.

The other things that Nancy was point out, too, that could have been done also they failed to do. So support to the front-line states. Four million plus refugees are in these three countries. Of course they’re going to try to get to Europe for—after one or two or three years of not being able to send their kids to school or not being able to work. Why didn’t we provide aid? Even today on the table at the European Council meeting is going to be a discussion about Turkey and raising European Union aid to Turkey from half a billion euros to a billion euros. But do the math of what it would cost to support 2.2 million refugees, which is what Turkey has. If you do it reasonably well under conditions that would prevent them from wanting to leave, perhaps, or persuade them from wanting to leave, that might cost 10 billion a year, at least—10 billion euros a year. We’re talking about increasing it by half a billion euros a year. So if you want to not have them to come Europe, support the front-line states.

So if you keep digging at these questions of what the Europeans could have done and why they didn’t do it, you get into some really, I think, deep issues. Why can’t we bring ourselves to give a half a percent of our GDP to support those who are the poorest in the world, especially when we see them as a threat to our own political stability? And what has become of our societies that we cannot have that debate in a way that allows us to prevent what has taken place this summer? And I think there are a whole series of other actions that the Europeans could have taken as well that were simple. They were not as complicated as now what we’re facing, which is a political potentially breakup of the EU.

MARTIN: Sir Peter has been very vocal on these issues and very eloquent. And I thank you for, I’m sure, some of that eloquence.

MANIATIS: It’s all him. (Laughter.)

MARTIN: On that, how has his entreaties to the Europeans gone in terms of both the public reaction as well as the governmental reaction? He’s made some—obviously made some of the same points.

MANIATIS: I think Peter’s speaking very clearly to the moral issues and to the operational issues. I think that you see a real divide in Europe between those who are more, let’s say, liberal on the issue of refugees in particular—let’s leave migration aside for a moment—who want to support refugees. But they’re faced with a camp that is so demagogic, that appeals to Europe’s—the base instincts of Europeans, whether it’s based on security concerns of identity concerns, that the progressive forces have not had a real good plan for how to—for how to address the more base politics of this.

I think Peter’s—not just Peter, but there has been an effort by the U.N. system. For the first time, you have what’s called informally a quartet of leaders of the major parts of the U.N. that deal with this issue: the UNHCR, the OHCHR—the human rights high commissioner—and IOM, which is outside the U.N. but works closely with them. They all have spoken out forcefully together at key moments over the course of the summer.

Has it had an effect? I think it has had an effect on European leaders. I think that the bigger effect, though, I think, in Europe, has been from the ground up. I think the moral and operational leadership that’s been shown by individuals, by church groups, by entrepreneurs, whether it’s the Catrambones, who have started the Migrant Offshore Aid Station—before the Europeans were rescuing people, there was a family in their 30s that had been chartering ships and drones to help rescue migrants and showed the way morally.

Today we face another big challenge, which is why are we making people cross the Mediterranean if we’re going to ultimately offer them asylum anyway? So there you come up with an operational challenge, which is how do you get somebody from Turkey or Lebanon to Europe? By plane, obviously, or by ship. That’s safe. And yet, the European Union has not figured out a way to overcome the operational hurdle. It hasn’t even tried I most cases. You have, on the other hand, a Swedish entrepreneur who has started Refugee Air, which is trying to work through the challenge of seeing how you identify a qualified asylum-seeker in Turkey, fly them to Sweden, and then do the full asylum process in Sweden. It’s a very simple idea, but it hasn’t been pursued.

Hopefully, I think, what Peter has done with the U.N. system has done, limited though it might be, has helped to focus people on what should be done, what can be done, and to put resources there instead of into political battles.

MARTIN: Nancy, what do we need to do more globally to resuscitate our refugee system?

LINDBORG: Well, I would make a couple of points. And just picking up on Gregory’s resource comments, you know, there has been significant resource put into the humanitarian response by certain key donors. I mean, the U.S. since the Syria crisis began has put $4.3 billion against the Syrian crisis, and we are by far the leading country doing so, followed by the European Union, several of the European countries—France, Germany, U.K.—and then Japan and Kuwait.

There is, however, right now, as I said, an incredible shortfall. There are only about 34 percent of the funds raised for the necessary $7.6 billion for this year’s U.N. appeal in Syria and about 50 percent of the ($)700 million needed for Iraq. So we need, first of all, those countries that traditionally shoulder a significant financial burden to step forward, and we also need a greater burden-sharing among the countries of the world. I mean, this is fundamentally a global issue. There is a marked lack of participation by a number of states and countries that could step forward with assistance on that front. And your point about you raise more money one day after an earthquake than you do in five years of this kind of complicated crisis is a really important one, because people just shut down and we don’t take—we aren’t able to bring in the private-sector funding as well.

Secondly is what we do with this money. And we are currently hampered by a system—a humanitarian system that is very stovepiped and treats refugees as a short-term problem with short-term kind of assistance efforts when they’re not going back anytime soon. They’ve already been out for five years. And there has been some very important progress in the region, and I give full credit to those who have pushed hard against the institutional boundaries—greater use of cash, greater connectivity between some of the key U.N. institutions. But at the end of the day, we’re still stuck in those systems that don’t enable us to work more quickly towards building the resilience of refugees and connecting them up to development solutions, connecting them up to the development that has to benefit the host country communities that are feeling a tremendous burden and very vulnerable themselves, so that they still remain parallel efforts instead of fully synergizing and being more effective with the funds that we do raise.

My third point is that in place—I don’t think this is going to be happening in Syria anytime soon, although there are pockets where people are still, remarkably, going about their lives, and we want to make sure to be supporting them in the country. Certainly in Iraq, as the United States and others of the coalition invest in this clearing operation of ISIS, we really need to be sure to invest in the post-military operations that enable people to return because otherwise you’re going to have another 3 million people who can’t go home, who are going to be a part of those seeking to leave for other parts of the world. We are right now not investing at the levels that we need to be or really prioritizing that.

And I just came back from Iraq, where USIP has worked with a team of Iraqi negotiators for a number of years who have worked very closely with Sunni and Shia tribal sheikhs—tribal leaders to broker an agreement that, in the wake of a terrible massacre at Speicher Camp last year—where about 14,000 Iraqi military members, mainly Shia, were brutally massacred by ISIS—as ISIS departs—many of the Sunni families departed the area when ISIS came in. But there’s this sense that some of those Sunni tribe members participated in the massacre, and the danger is that it could now, post-ISIS, turn into cycles of retribution as tribal justice takes hold. So the mediation enabled the tribes to agree that they would not hold whole tribes responsible, but simply the individuals. And therefore, it allowed conflict to not revive, and ultimately families to return. So we need to really be looking at all the ways that we can help people return when and where they can do they don’t become permanently displaced.

MARTIN: Let’s turn to the U.S. and our role. You’ve talked about our—us as a donor, and clearly have played an important role with that respect. The president and secretary of State just announced our resettlement aims for this coming year, an additional 10,000 resettlement spots for Syrian refugees, the hope that that will go up in subsequent years to maybe 30,000. Is that enough? Could we be doing more?

MANIATIS: Sure. I mean, I think that one of the unintended and really unfortunate consequences of Europe basically sitting on its hands, not being able to figure it out, is that it gave a signal to the rest of the world that Europe had to act first, that this was a European problem. And so that paralysis over the summer has basically let other countries off of the hook.

This is not a European problem. It’s not a Mediterranean/African problem. It is a global problem. That is what the ’51 Convention says. There is no logic of proximity in terms of responsibility. And yet, because Europe first of all tried to push other countries aside, and said that this is our issue and we’re going to deal with it, and then failed to deal with it, basically signaled to the rest of the world that they could sit back.

But what we’re seeing is, first of all, that Europe can’t do it on its own; secondly, that it shouldn’t—it is a—it is an international responsibility to figure this out. And we’re seeing, I think, the real fraying of the global protection system that was created in 1951. That was established under a completely different historical—in a different historical period. You had ideological affinity with refugees back then. You had countries principally where the potential refugees were that didn’t want to let them out during the Cold War. Today you’re seeing authoritarian countries that simply want to get rid of whether it’s political opponents or ethnic groups or religious groups, and so the refugee system is serving a completely different purpose.

And as Nancy said, it’s at 60 million. It’s at an historic high. We have a resettlement program, which was the most secure way for refugees to reestablish their lives, that deals with 100,000 out of 20 million refugees, 16 million displaced—100,000 is nothing. Twenty-six countries participate. You have to reimagine, I think, that global protection system. And by doing that and getting more countries involved, I think you’ll also create greater momentum for conflict resolution or prevention, because if the effects of war are felt by everyone then everyone has a greater stake in trying to address the conflicts.

So, yes, the U.S. should be doing a lot more. (Laughs, laughter.)

LINDBORG: I would just add that, you know, I very much hope that, you know, Europe, the U.S., other countries will take the maximum. And as you note, even the maximum will be a tiny amount, but it will also I think serve an important message of solidarity with a region that is so completely saturated with refugees. Lebanon has flatly stated that they cannot keep the refugees in their country, that it will so upset that very delicate political demographic balance. So it does serve an important signal, as well, that it’s a global problem that we’re all participating in solving.

MARTIN: OK, let’s open it to the audience for Q&A. And there are microphones, if you’ll please wait to get to the microphone. Please also stand, state your name. I’ll state yours: Louise Shelley, first. (Laughs.)

Q: My name is Louise Shelley. I’m professor at George Mason and director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center.

In the absence of a system to help the refugees leave, criminals have stepped in. And the head of Europol has said there are about 30,000 criminals now involved in this illicit movement of migrants, and part of the meeting of the ministers of interior today is on the criminal aspect of this. What do we do, also, about decriminalizing this so that we’re assisting migrant flows and not letting the criminals step in to perform the functions that are not being done by the state?

MANIATIS: So I think the initial conceptualization of the problem in Europe was that smugglers were taking people, exploiting them, and bring them across European borders; and that, if we simply went after the smugglers, we would be able to get rid of the problem. But of course, the problem is conflict and the problem is that people want to have lives. And so they will seek out the means to be able to pursue those lives, and the only means that were available to them when this crisis started were the smugglers. And, as Nancy said, once you’re in the camps, or in Lebanon not even in camps, in urban areas for three or four years, and you’re not sending your kids to school and you’re not working, you’re going to take the money that you have and—I don’t think the smugglers are, in many cases, seen as smugglers. They’re seen as people providing an essential service.

Now, how do you defuse that? How do you solve the problem of giving people a chance to establish themselves in Europe and not enriching criminal syndicates, which is what’s happening? You should have been able to pursue means of allowing asylum-seekers to apply for asylum in Europe from the region. It’s not so complicated. There are logistical and operational challenges to that. But if you were able to establish processing centers, if you were able to expand UNHCR’s own programs—the resettlement program—you would redirect not all the flows, but you would redirect several hundred thousand people to those processing centers—not force them to use smugglers, let them be in conditions that aren’t dangerous and chaotic, that don’t send a signal to European voters that things are out of control. That doesn’t mean that you would have stopped everyone, and you might have created somewhat of a pull factor, but you would have kept the problem under control.

That’s where it’s just a lot of yeoman’s work. You have to establish the systems. You have to work through the legal problems. You have to build facilities in order to be able to do the processing. All that work has not been done. It has been debated for years. It just simply hasn’t been done.

MARTIN: Yes, next.

Q: Tom Petri.

These crises are occurring in the context of the information revolution, and people all over the world who may not be driven by a war in their neighborhood but were driven by aspiration, wanting to become immigrants to more prosperous countries. And it’s in that context that this—does this make it much more complicated, because as you reduce the—and accommodate the crisis-driven immigrants, you’re also increasing the opportunities for the millions of people in China and India and Africa to engage in the immigration process?

LINDBORG: Well, I would just start by saying, you know, who are we seeing—given the danger of the journey, you’re still seeing the people who determine the risk is worth it, coming from countries where there are so few opportunities in their future that they chose to take the risk. And the comment I would make is that poverty is so intermixed with repression and with lack of opportunity to have a life with dignity, if you look at where they’re coming from—Eritrea, Afghanistan, Somalia—that I think what you find is people having to conform to certain very strict criteria. But I think we may want to reexamine that in the face of these persistent, oppressive environments that are driving most of them out, which is different than, I think, people who are coming through less risky routes.

MANIATIS: So I would just add, I mean, this question of this infinite problem, right? So there’s 7 billion people. They all want to come to the United States or Europe. I don’t think that’s true. But it’s certainly what’s used by populists to try to scare people. So I think the Hungarian prime minister yesterday said, oh, there’s 35 million people waiting to get to Europe. I don’t think you can solve that equation right now. I think the equation that you can solve is to create the capacity within Europe to be more generous than it currently is. That might end up being a million refugees a year. It might end up being a million refugees and 2 million economic migrants. Certain Europe has demographic problems.

Focus on the systems that will allow you to be able to receive those refugees and migrants at a level that you think is reasonable. I would argue that what we think is reasonable is way too low. We’re far more capable, as the United States or as Europe, of taking in a far greater number of people and integrating them. It will take money. It’ll take time and resources. But it’s certainly doable. Let’s get to the level where we are accepting in Europe a million refugees a year, eminently doable, and doing it well, without public panic. And then let’s see what the numbers look like and then we’ll figure out other solutions. In addition to what was said earlier, which is support the refugees who are in the region closer to home, which is where they mostly want to be, and let us help Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan do what they need to do.

MARTIN: Yes, we’ll go to this side.

Q: Gregory van der Vink, Novametrics and Princeton University.

Sociologists talk about this concept of the collapse of compassion, the—you know, death of one child is a tragedy, the death of a million is a statistic. And then as this—as these problems continue and appear to be more intractable, public support and determination for finding a solution starts to decrease. To what extent do you see this and how would you combat it?

MARTIN: Nancy, you’ve seen much of this.

LINDBORG: Well, I think we’ve already—that’s exactly the phenomena that you’re seeing as this crisis in Syria has dragged on, and as it’s sucked the attention from so many other similarly complicated protracted crises around the world. What we’re seeing in Europe is where it’s coming home and it’s more difficult to ignore. And so what I very much hope is that we can use the increased attention, given that it’s coming to the shores of people’s homes in a different way, to redouble our attention and focus on different, more effective solutions and answers in the front line countries. But fundamentally, there’s an emotional dimension there that you just have to work around. You can’t shift people’s emotions.

MANIATIS: Or build them. I mean, if you see what’s happened in Europe this summer, and you have a Facebook page in Iceland that generates 11,000 offers for families in Iceland, a country of 300,000 people, willing to take Iraqi refugees, or you have similar efforts throughout Europe where you see church communities, entrepreneurs, others saying, hey, we are able to do what needs to get done to match those willing to offer help to those families that need help. I think you would be able to unleash a tremendous amount of generosity from Europeans if you had the systems in place to match refugees with families, if you could get through the ridiculous hurdles that exist in order to bring a refugee into a country.

The pope, who’s here today, has called for every Catholic parish to take a refugee. I think you try to make it personal and enable that. But we haven’t—we don’t have the systems in place to enable it. In Canada, I think they took—I’m not even sure about the number—but roughly 5,000 people a year through what’s called private sponsorship, where individuals and NGOs go into a database of people who have been cleared, refugees who have been cleared, and they take whole responsibility—or full responsibility for sponsoring them and bringing them into the community. If you do that, and you take the abstract and make it very real and very human, and I think that you just at this point need to start working—and I think that’s where the private sector can play a really big role, in trying to help match up demand and need.

LINDBORG: And, you know, I would just add to that, I think it’s worth highlighting and spotlighting how much people in the region are doing with the host communities in Iraq, the church, the mosques, the individual families who have turned their lives upside down to help those who are displaced, so that people do see that it is not—they’re not—there is this global outpouring, including from the region, to provide assistance.

MARTIN: And it’s interesting that it—previously when there’s been a crisis of this type, that’s—this is exactly what’s happened in the U.S., where the president in 1979, the Indo-China boat crisis, basically said to voluntary agencies, church groups, others, you know, we will take 14,000 a month, but we need you to sponsor them and to help pay for it. We did the same thing with the Kosovar refugee crisis in 1998. And yet, we’re not seeing that in the same way today in this country.

Yes, Elisa.

Q: Thanks. Elisa Massimino with Human Rights First.

I have a short comment and then a question. The comment is, and I would invite your reflections on it, as we think about whether you call it the updating of the global refugee system or—you both referred to that in some way—I think it’s really important that as we think about that we are careful not to permit any erosion of the right to seek asylum. We always see when there are big crises like this an effort to contain it and build walls around so that people can’t escape. And while it’s great to have orderliness in refugee resettlement, the nature of the refugee experience is that it’s not orderly. It’s chaotic. And we have to make sure that the system will account for that.

But my question is—Nancy, I wonder if—you mentioned the importance of investing in development—looking more at this long-term problem and investing in development, education, economic opportunity for refugees where they are, whether they’re still in Syria or in neighboring states. I wonder if you could elaborate on that a little bit and give us a little bit more detail or a blueprint of how to move forward with that, and particularly what the U.S. could do. Thanks.

LINDBORG: Sure. Well, first of all, I fully agree with your reflection. I think it is important to protect that—the fundamentals of the system. In terms of what we can do differently, you know, a civil society activist in Erbil was telling me, you know, we have seven camps in and around the Erbil area, which means we have seven time bombs, because these are huge percentages, some estimates are up to 50 percent, of kids under 18 who aren’t—you know, they’re interrupted in their studies or they’re not getting any college at all. And that’s for a much longer period for those who are coming out of Syria.

We have a system right now that makes it very difficult to be as flexible as we need to be in our conflict and refugee environments to provide—even as we provide the fundamentals of shelter, medical assistance, water, those longer-term forms of assistance that enable the refugees to be more resilient, whether they remain out of their homes or are able to go home. The education, the psychosocial health, because most of these people have suffered unspeakable traumas and need help getting over that. Those are very underfunded parts of the assistance.

There was an effort in October of 2013 to launch something called No Lost Generation, which attempted to blend development and humanitarian funding so that there could be a huge push for education for Syrian kids, because this is five years now a lot of kids have had no schooling. And it has never really taken off. It’s pushing against a lot of the very entrenched practices and institutional mandates of the humanitarian architecture that we, both within the United States as well as the international system, need to take a hard look at.

And it’s both for efficiency’s sake—and there have been some successes where HCR and WFP have worked together to provide assistance in the form of a debit card that uses biometric identification. That cuts down enormously on the transactional costs of providing that assistance and it focuses on giving cash. So there’s much more choice and much more dignity for the recipient of that assistance, as opposed to making them queue up to get a voucher and then go take a sack of whatever it is we’re giving them.

In the United States we also remain hamstrung by the insistence that we provide food assistance in a way that is fundamentally about supporting our shippers and our food processors here in this country, and that the Syria response is entirely cash-based, which means that we don’t have cash for other emergencies around the world where it might be very important. So that was a big effort that got traction over the last few years. It’s stalled out right now, but it’s fundamentally about more flexibility in our system, more ability to be creative so that we can help people with the kind of assistance that they need that enable them not just to survive in the camp but, given that most of them are in urban areas anyway, really put a life together.

MANIATIS: Can I just—two comments, one totally unrelated to the question and then I’ll get back to the question, which is something that you just made me think of. In the U.S., the opposition to accepting more Syrians is based on security fears, right? So there have been 700,000 refugees taken to the U.S. over the past 10 years. Two of those refugees have been linked to terrorist groups in one single case. And they were identified before they caused any damage. Now, think about what’s happening, as you said, in the region. You’re generating, probably, a whole lot of terrorists there of the future by not educating them, by giving them an image of Europe and the United States which is one of meanness and lack of generosity.

And you have to weigh that against the risks of taking in 10(,000), 15(,000), 20,000. It’s an incredibly distorted debate. It’s amazing that this president and this administration can only bring himself to say we’re going to take 10,000 Syrians when there’s 800,000 that are headed to Germany. It’s so disproportionate, and it’s something that we talked about earlier, the Europeans are noticing. And there is tremendous anger at the elite level in Europe towards the United States, and I think at the popular level as well. So I think that’s something to take into consideration.

I hear you on the question of not undermining the existing system, but it is undermined. I mean, if you end up in a world where you have drones and fences and warships keeping people out, you’ll say, well, we protected the convention on paper, but in practice you’re pushing back, you’re preventing people from being able to go to where they want to go. So you do have to have an open mind, I think—everyone, all of us—about what are new solutions. How do we expand global capacity for protection?

Guy Goodwin-Gill at Oxford has proposed the notion of imposing sanctions, seizing the assets of countries like Syria that are producing large numbers of refugees, in order to take those assets and use them to help fund—to help fund the costs of taking care of those refugees. Now, of course, not all nations that produce refugees have a lot of assets abroad, but some do. If we don’t open up this debate to some degree—of course, that is the dogma, we’re not allowed to open it up. But if we don’t, then we also are limiting ourselves to new ideas like that. So we don’t entertain those ideas if we’re not willing to consider whether something that was created in 1951 is applicable in 2015.

MARTIN: Other questions? In the back, Patricia. Please stand.

Q: Patricia Fagen, Georgetown University. I work with Susan Martin at the Institute for the Study of International Migration.

It’s so easy—it’s so difficult to look at the long term, as I’m very happy to hear many of you are, in dealing with this immediate crisis, and ongoing crisis. But I want to just make a couple comments and ask a question. And the comment is, the United States has a luxury with regard to the Syrians of being able to select who is going to be resettled and to resettle those people who meet all of the qualification. And in so doing, the U.S. is fulfillment of its legal obligations. However, when we look at the other side of the country, when the Central Americans enter through the bottom of the U.S., a similar situation to what is happening in Europe occurred, although on a tiny scale compared to the massiveness of the crisis now.

Nevertheless, people did come into the U.S., people were not vetted very well, they were treated in an emergency way which was disorderly. And to this day, they—most of them do not have status. It’s not clear whether they’re refugees or how they’re to be considered. And this isn’t very dissimilar to what is happening in Europe now, except that there are much larger numbers. The Syrians coming to Europe are being vetted for asylum. They are being put—it seems to be coalescing into a system where they, as in Germany, they would be in places where they can be examined and then assessed for asylum or not.

And I was looking at the paper yesterday and there was a table, how many are accepted how many are rejected? And in most of the countries, more accepted than rejected—most of the larger countries. But in some of them, more are rejected than accepted. What’s going to happen to the rejectees? I mean, there is some long-term status questions here, because you can’t really send them back. And if you don’t send them back, where are you going to send them? And in the countries in the region, they have been protected from refoulement. They have been assisted to the limited degree that the countries can assist them, but they don’t have status. And so I wonder how much conversation, how much discourse there is on the question of longer-term status. Does the Icelandic government understand that when it takes—how many thousand? I don’t know—that they’re accepting them forever, or for a short time?

MANIATIS: Well, there’s lots of questions embedded in there. So the question of status is an important one. I think, and it’s very difficult—you’ll know this better than I do—but if you have a crisis like Syria, you can’t predict when it’s going to end.

But you do have the ability at a moment like this, where the system has been pushed beyond its capacity, to come up with some more flexible solutions. So you could simply offer temporary protection to Syrians and put off the asylum determination process until later. You could simply allow people to come in—it’s potentially bucking the tradition of the refugee system—but you could allow them to come in and actually put the determination process at the end of it. So once the Syria conflict is over, let’s just say that it ends in five years—you would then put people through the very laborious process of applying for asylum in order not to be returned to Syria.

So Iceland could give temporary protection to the families that come in and are willing to be hosted by those 11,000 families in Iceland. Sending people back, in many cases in Europe, see the Western Balkans, I think the Germany accept 0.45 percent of all asylum applications from residents of the Western Balkans. And the problem is that once they reach Germany, the return system in Europe isn’t very effective. So I think there’s something like two out of three of those who have been rejected by the asylum system and have been told to go home, don’t go home.

And that’s clearly a major problem for the Europeans that they’re trying to focus on. It is a matter of public trust. In order for the asylum system to work for those who deserve protection, it has to also work in the other direction, which is to not be abused by those who don’t deserve protection, and that means returning them. Now, there are going to be lots of gray area cases where it’s going to be a problem. That’s a significant percentage of those who are not being returned, but it’s certainly not the majority of them.

MARTIN: Yeah, and interestingly in the 1990s Europe used temporary protection of the Bosnians. And in fact, Germany actually did return quite a lot of Bosnians—

MANIATIS: Over 70 percent.

MARTIN: Yeah. So there is precedent for being able to act in that manner.

I believe, Katherine, you had your hand up? Yeah.

Q: Katherine Marshall from Georgetown University.

I think both of you are calling for some bold new initiatives, because the system is basically broken. And I wondered where that might come from? Do you have a nominee for a czar or some kind of rethinking?

MANIATIS: I’ve got Peter. (Laughs, laughter.) I have enough to handle. (Laughs.)

I think—I think that where it’s come from—it’s already come from the bottom, I mean, it’s already come from those who created the Airbnb of the refugee world, Refugees Welcome in Europe. It’s come from the Catrambones, who I mentioned, who are rescuing people. It is coming now a little bit more from the private sector. The IKEA Foundation is a major partner of UNHCR in terms of providing shelter for refugees. Google and others are now matching contributions to support refugees.

I think that the bottleneck is at the national level. When you go sub-nationally to cities, to church groups, NGOs and individuals, there is a lot of pent-up will to act. I think you’re also in generation shift right now where millennials, post-millennials are, I think, less enamored of just simply, you know, pursuing financial goals and are willing to think about, you know, participating in the world in a more, I think, compassionate way. So you have to unleash that. I think there is the start of that in Europe. I hope there is the start of that in the United States too.

I mean, you look at Canada. Canada’s a small country. And it is able to resettle through private sponsorship 5,000 people a year. I mean, if you extrapolated that to the population of Europe, Europe should be able through private sponsorship by individuals and NGOs to resettle hundreds of thousands a year, same with the United States. We have to build those systems. The demand, the will, the compassion, and the generosity are there.

LINDBORG: I would say, on the other side of the equation, which is how we provide assistance in these kinds of crises, there is a lot of energy and a lot of conversation right now about how one might re-envision the humanitarian system. You’re up against very entrenched institutions. There is a world humanitarian summit coming up in Istanbul this spring, in May. And there—I believe there is a lot of hope that that is a real and substantive conversation that helps us really dig into—you know, at 50 years after the development of all these institutions, I mean, it’s a little bit like the medical profession where you’ve proliferated specialties and you’ve proliferated institutions.

But we’ve gotten in the way of ourselves in terms of being able to really address what’s needed where and, you know, not being so constrained by mandate and capacities. So that’s coming up. And I don’t know that it’s one bold voice, but there are many, many voices that are participating in that conversation.

MARTIN: I think the very fact that the four U.N. heads—or, three U.N. plus IOM—are speaking out together now on these crises, globally not just what’s happening in Europe, is a very, very good sign, because we haven’t really seen that in the past. There’s a lot of stovepiping institutionally with regard to these issues.

MANIATIS: Absolutely.

LINDBORG: And I would just add that there are ways that we could modernize how we do it here in the United States as well. And we have an opportunity—it’s always hard to do when you’re in the middle of, or at the end of an administration. But as we look to the next, is an opportunity to really push that conversation forward.

MARTIN: We have time for just one more question. And I saw some hands in this quadrant, or not? Then I may take the moderator’s prerogative then to just pose one more question, if you don’t have it. And that’s mostly kind of a wish list to bring together our conversations. In terms of just thinking of the next three months or so, what are the two or three things that you’d like to see happen that would make a change in Europe and globally on these issues?

MANIATIS: Want me to go first? (Laughter.)

LINDBORG: Well, I would say—I would say three things. One is that there is a significant redoubling of resource raised and applied at the front line states, that it not be so diverted by the question of who gets resettled that we forget to put it there, and that we stop having appeals that are only 30, 40 percent funded. Secondly, that we continue to make the progress that we can on provision of education and livelihoods and psychosocial, and focus on enabling people to return where they can, and continuing to provide assistance inside the areas of conflict, because there are still another 8 million people inside of Syria who are in great need of assistance. And we need to continue to push on that.

And finally, not to forget that as we in this country are focusing on fighting ISIS, that some of the worst pain and suffering inside of Syria continues to be the barrel bombing by Assad. And the utter destruction of those—of cities throughout Syria that is really compelling many of the people to leave is from the barrel bombing. And, you know, if I could wave a magic wand, it would be to have a better international system for how we deal with people who just ruthlessly kill and pummel their own people. I like the idea of taxing. If we could do that with real pain for the—for the regime in place, you know, that the normative frame is that it’s not OK to slaughter your own people.

MANIATIS: I agree with all of that. I mean, I think in terms of the international system we’ve talked about, you have to rethink that and create greater global capacity that is more fairly shared across the world, definitely that’s one thing. In Europe, I think there has to be, and I think Chancellor Merkel is making this proposition, that if you want to be part of Europe and if you want to be part of its basic institutions you can’t just benefit from them, you have to contribute to them.

So if you’re an Eastern European or a Central European and you want to be able to move freely and send your citizens to other countries to work, you also have to share in the responsibility that Europe has towards its foreign policy and in its value, which means do not whip up Islamophobia and talk about the Christian identity of Europe as being exclusive. So that, I think, is the hard-headed bargain that those leaders like Merkel are going to have to make over the course of actually the next 24 hours, and over the course of the next few months and years.

And then in Europe, let’s just get rid of 28 different asylum systems. Let’s have one. Let’s not proliferation rules and systems that are grossly unfair and come out with completely different results, where you have 91 percent of Syrians accepted in one country and 1 percent in another country. That would be the other thing that on my wish list.

LINDBORG: I would add one more wish list, because in the backdrop of a lot of your comments, Gregory, has been this fear of extremists. And as we put our efforts into fighting Daesh or ISIS, it’s important to remember that it isn’t fundamentally a military solution, and we need to be investing now alongside our military actions in Iraq so that communities can heal and communities can return, so that we don’t further—have an even bigger problem on our hands. And we’re not really doing that right now. We’re really not doing that. There was talk of closing the AID mission down. It’s now on a two-year short-term revival. But this is the wrong time to be not doing those additional kinds of programs that create social cohesion and rebuild societies that have been torn apart by what’s happened with ISIS.

MARTIN: Well, thank you very, very much for your comments. And thank the audience for your questions and your participation. (Applause.)


This is an uncorrected transcript.

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