Responding to the Migrant Crisis in the Middle East

Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Muhammed Hamed/Reuters
David Miliband

President and Chief Executive Officer, International Rescue Committee; Former Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Kingdom (2007-2010) 

Peter Wittig

Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the United States

Lisa Anderson

Former President, American University in Cairo

In conversation with Lisa Anderson, Former President of The American University in Cairo, David Miliband, President and CEO of International Rescue Committee, and Peter Wittig, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the United States, discuss the efforts to assist refugees displaced from the migrant crisis in the Middle East. The speakers examine the challenges of integrating refugees from the Middle East into Western society, the necessity of creating a sustainable humanitarian strategy for addressing the growing migrant crisis in the long-term, and the role the United States should play in the resettlement of refugees. 

The Arthur C. Helton Memorial Lecture was established to honor the memory of Arthur C. Helton, who was director of peace and conflict studies and senior fellow for refugee studies and preventive action at the Council on Foreign Relations. The lecture addresses pressing human rights issues and humanitarian concerns.

ANDERSON: Good afternoon. I’m Lisa Anderson. And I’m delighted to be able to welcome David Miliband and Peter Wittig to be with us today.

As you know, this is the 12th Annual Arthur C. Helton Memorial Lecture. And as many of you will remember, Arthur was director of peace and conflict studies here at the Council, and senior fellow for refugee studies and preventive action. He was killed in 2003 when the hotel in Baghdad when he and 20 other international civil servants were serving in the mission of the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for Iraq—when that hotel was bombed. This lecture is dedicated to his lifetime’s mission, serving the world’s humanitarian and refugee crises. And I’m particularly pleased to be able to welcome Jackie Gilbert, his widow, and Pamela Krause, his sister, and all of Arthur’s friends to be with us here today.

As you know, we are joined by David Miliband in his capacity as president and chief executive officer of the International Rescue Committee, formerly secretary of state for foreign affairs of the U.K., as you know. And Peter Wittig is ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the United States, also served here at the United Nations. Thank you both for being with us.

Yesterday, as most of you know, was World Refugee Day. And it came with more dismaying news from the UNHCR. Wars and persecution have driven more people from their homes than at any time since the United Nations began keeping records. On average, 24 people were forced to flee each minute in 2015—four times more than a decade ago. Now we have about 65 million people displaced. And it’s the first time since the U.N. was established that we’ve crossed the 60 million mark.

Twenty-five million of those have taken refuge outside their home country. The dangers are at home, obviously, it’s why people are moving, in transit, and in the receiving countries. As the U.N. high commissioner said recently, more people are being displaced by war and persecution, and that’s worrying in itself, but the factors that endanger refugees are multiplying too. At sea, a frightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year. On land, people are fleeing war, finding their way to blocked and closed borders. Closing borders, he said, does not solve the problem.

I’ll be turning to Ambassador Wittig to give us a sense of some of the political ramifications of this exodus, particularly in Europe and North America. But perhaps we could start with you, David. Can you tell us a little bit about who the refugees in the Middle East are, where are they, what are they fleeing, why are we seeing this kind of enormous uptick in this problem?

MILIBAND: Well, thank you very much for the question and thank you to all of you for being out here. I should first of all knowledge that it’s a real honor to be commemorating the extraordinary life of Arthur Helton, who was clearly a humanitarian of extraordinary dedication and devotion. And so I really feel privileged to be here today.

You asked about the Middle East, but I think it’s right to put the figures that you gave in a global context. Twenty-one million refugees, 40 million internally displaced, 3 million asylees in the 65 million figure. And while Syria and the Syria crisis is the poster child for the worst of the humanitarian crisis, it’s important to remember that Somalia’s civil war carries on two generations on, Congo, massive refugee flows. I was in the northeast of Nigeria at the end of last year, 2.2 million internally displaced people there.

So of the 21 million refugees, 5 million are from Syria. Seven million IDPs, internally displaced. Over 40 million, 7 million are Syrian. Specifically on your question, where are the Syrian refugees? They’re predominantly in the region, about 4 ¼ million are in the Middle East region. And that is consistent with the global trend, which is that—contrary to the image that you believe if you read the newspaper—there are not hordes of refugees entering Western societies. The vast bulk of refugees, about 85 percent, are in poor countries, not rich countries—poor countries are joining countries in conflict.

Of the 5-plus million Syrian refugees, Turkey has the largest number, 2.5 to 2.7 million refugees, which is an extraordinary load. Lebanon, a country of only 4 ½ to 5 million people, you know Lebanon well, has at least 1.5 million refugees. So fully one-third of the Lebanese population now are Syrian refugees. Jordan, there’s some contest over the figures—650,000 official figures. The government of Jordan would say there are more. There’s about 250,000 Syrians in Iraq, actually, who in our experience, we’ve got 2,000 people on the ground inside of Syria and about 1,500 in the neighboring states. The 250,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq probably get better help, more help than the internally displaced from Mosul and elsewhere Iraq.

And then you have the European end of the crisis. A million or so asylum seekers arrived in Europe last year, not all of them, though, from the Middle East. I mean, probably a third of them came from—or even slightly more, maybe 40 percent—came from Afghanistan, maybe Somalia, maybe elsewhere. And certainly the bulk inside Europe at the moment are that million. There are 50,000 in Greece. The vast bulk of them, probably 900,000—around 900,000 are in Germany. Sweden has a smaller number—much smaller number, in the tens of thousands.

And the final part of the jigsaw is that while the flow from Syria into Europe has been more or less paused by the quote, unquote “deal” between the European Union and Turkey, demonstrating more about the power of the Turkish government to turn on the tap and turn off the tap than what it demonstrates about the deal, the tragic scenes that were in the news two weeks ago were the second route to Europe. The first route being from Turkey to Greece. The second route being from North Africa to Italy.

And in our judgment—we’ve got people in Libya as well as in Greece and in Serbia and Turkey—is that you’ve not yet seen displacement of Syrian refugees from Turkey round into North Africa, and then going north into Europe—or trying to go north into Europe. You’ve got essentially Africans going through North Africa—or going through African and then up into North Africa, and then trying to get to Italy. One in 20, two weeks ago, were dying on the way in the sea. So you can see the gravity.

Sorry, that’s probably a longer answer than you wanted, but—

ANDERSON: So, it’s actually what I did want, that is to say the scale of this problem is—it may not be precisely focused on Europe as much as we, and in Europe, think is the case, but it’s a staggering problem. And it will be a problem—I wonder, before we get to the receiving countries a little bit, whether there are changes in, if you will, the patterns of who is displaced and who is—because it seems to me the press reports, you see a lot of families, you see a lot of children. Is that typical of refugee flows? It seems to me that one wouldn’t expect to see as much of the, you know, unaccompanied children and families with very small children and so forth.

MILIBAND: I mean, it’s very mixed. And different stages of the Syrian crisis have seen different people leave. I mean, to say the obvious, the wealthiest people left first, right at the beginning. You then had a period in 2011 where people were hoping it would be a short war and so the refugee flows were relatively limited. But then by 2012, as the scale of the—the intensity of the conflict grew, you had a large number of people getting out of Syria. And I think there’s no reason to believe it wouldn’t be families trying to get out because men take their wife and kids as well as widowed women—


MILIBAND: —with kids getting out. But then when it came to the flow to Europe, there’s been an ebb and flow in the numbers. So there were periods when there would be large numbers of men going and then swinging back to a much more balanced grouping. And you’ve seen—I don’t know how many of you have seen the pictures of people crossing from Turkey into Greece, but lots of kids, lots of women on those—

ANDERSON: Exactly.

MILIBAND: —on those shores.

Maybe the ambassador can comment on this, but I think in Northern Europe—it’s said that in Sweden and in Denmark there’s a lot more men who are applying for asylum in Northern Europe, in Scandinavia. But essentially you’ve got people fleeing for their lives, and people go with their families if they can, if at all possible to do so.

It’s worth saying just—I’m sure we’ll come to this later—the U.S. has a flagrantly low number of Syrians who have come here, two-and-a-half thousand, but one interesting point is that less than 2 percent of the two-and-a-half thousand Syrians who have come here in the last five years are single men. So one of the myths put round is that there’s loads of single men—


MILIBAND: —coming into America, but it’s actually not true.

ANDERSON: Right. OK. I think that, in fact, answers the question exactly.

So the humanitarian issues would seem completely compelling. We see the pictures, we see what’s happening and so forth, and yet in Europe—and in Germany, in the EU as a whole, even in North America there is enormous resistance. Where is the resistance coming from? Talk a little bit about how this is seen, particularly from Germany and Europe.

WITTIG: Well, let me first of all thank you, Lisa and Richard and the Council, for having me here. I’m also privileged to be on a panel with David Miliband, whose work and whose organization I really admire for the wonderful work they’re doing worldwide.

You said a record number of people are uprooted. I think we’ve got to understand this is a movement of people of epic proportions. It is the first digital migration of people. And I think we’ve got to realize it will not go away in a year or two or three. This is with us to stay for a long time. And this is something we’ve got to communicate to our people.

And I’m speaking here on behalf of my government. And that is a difficult message to convey. The message is there’s no single lever to pull to stop this flow of refugees, of asylum seekers, of migrants, but we have to address the complexity of the situation through sort of multilayered measures. We have to look at the root causes. We have to address the root causes of conflict. That means we are in there for the long haul.

We’ve got to support the neighboring countries of those that are adjacent to the zones of conflict—in the case of Syria it’s Lebanon, it’s Jordan, it’s Turkey—so that the refugees preferably stay there so in order to return easily once the conflict is over. And in the case of Europe, we have to come to a common European refugee and asylum policy, which is a tall order in a European Union that consists of 28 sovereign nation states.

And then on a national basis, we have to think hard and engage proactively in an integration policy. Of course we hope that many refugees can return home because the conflict has been solved or the cause of persecution, but we’ve got to be realistic. A lot of them that come to our countries will stay, and we’ve got to begin now to make—go the extra mile, make extra efforts to integrate them.

So no easy answers, no one lever to pull, no one wall, no shutting off borders, but addressing the complexity of the issue, and that is difficult to digest for, you know, the rank and file voters in many countries. And it has had huge repercussions not only domestically in many countries of Europe—it has upended in some cases the political—the party system—but also it has put a lot of strain on the coherence of the European Union. And it is probably the most challenging—I hesitate to say existential, but almost existential crisis of Europe since World War II. So this is the effect it had, compounded by other factors, on the European Union.

ANDERSON: I actually—I’d address this to either one of you, actually. One of the things that’s sort of a puzzle is that we treat refugees as a crisis and an emergency, but as you suggest, this is sort of a permanent—or we should be addressing this as if it were a permanent element of modern life. And as I understand it, most people are refugees for a very long time, even those people who do ultimately return home. So how do you deal with a permanent crisis?

MILIBAND: Well, we are an international refugee resettlement agency in the U.S. but we’re also an international humanitarian aid agency, so we see the full arc of crisis. And I think—first of all, a factual point: Less than 1 percent of the world’s refugees went home last year.


MILIBAND: So people aren’t going home. If you go to the Dadaab refugee camp, which is the world’s largest refugee camp, in eastern Kenya, 360,000 people live there. It’s a small city. A hundred-thousand people were born there. So if you say, will you ever go home? They say, well, what do you mean; this is my home. So I think that’s just the information point.

I think that—my own view is that this, quote, unquote, “crisis,” if you say, how are we going to deal with this state of permanent crisis, it suggests a degree of stability, whereas this is not a stable crisis. It’s a fast—it’s a dynamic crisis because it’s not—it would be bad enough if you had 20 million refugees year after year after year. That’s not the case. You’ve got growing numbers of refugees. I mean, the world’s newest nation, South Sudan, has added 150,000 refugees in the last two years.

So you’ve got this—these trends, the weak states that are unable to meet basic needs and are unable to contain difference within peaceful boundaries. You’ve got a weak international system which is divided at its core. And the ambassador can speak to some of the elements of that from both his New York experience and his current position. And you’ve got, sorry to say it, fundamental questions being asked in the Islamic world about the reconciliation of Islam with modernity.

And it is—I always—I feel honor-bound to say to audiences, the IRC was founded by Einstein to rescue Jews from Europe. Today, 40 (percent) to 50 percent of our work is in Muslim-majority countries where religion is at the core of some genuinely existential questions, and the Syria crisis is very good example.

It’s not the case that all Muslim majority countries are unable to reconcile Islam with modernity—you know, Indonesia, Bangladesh, et cetera—but if I think about some of the biggest programs we run in Syria, in Afghanistan, even in the Central African Republic, where it’s actually religious tension between Muslims and Christians, you’ve got really deep, long-term issues that are not going to be resolved anytime soon.

So I think that the roots of the crisis are important to diagnose if we’re to even begin to think about what are the antidotes.

ANDERSON: Well, it is true; apparently two-thirds of all refugees are Muslims, suggesting that there is some issues there in the Muslim world that have to be addressed because they’re just sending people out. They’re not, obviously, happy or comfortable at home. But that also suggests ways of thinking about why it is that people are so concerned about absorbing these populations, particularly in Europe.

WITTIG: Well, I think that that is one elephant in the room, that most of the refugees that are coming now to Europe are of Muslim faith. And I still think, at least in my country, there’s general support for the refugee policy of Chancellor Merkel. But there is a growing doubt whether the values of some of those refugees or migrants or asylum-seekers are compatible with the values of our liberal democracy. And that’s why we have now a right-wing party that puts Islam on top of the agenda, saying they have to adapt to our values. So it is—it goes deep into the psychology of people, of voters in Europe, much deeper than in the U.S. Ironically, only—you know, the U.S. has only 0.6 (percent) Muslims as its population. In Germany, it’s 5 percent. In France, it’s 7 or 8 percent. So the Muslim population is bigger. But it plays a very big role in the discussion.

What we do now in Germany is we offer not only language courses or programs to get people into jobs more easily or assisted—give them assisted vocational training, we also offer so-called integration courses teaching the newcomers about the values of our democracy, including respect for gender, for other religions; in our case, you know, respecting our laws concerning the Holocaust, denial of Holocaust, our special relationship to Israel, et cetera. So we have to proactively do something to show that Islam and our values of the liberal democracy can be compatible, but that’s a challenge.

MILIBAND: Although it’s interesting that, remember, two-thirds of the American public didn’t want Jews to come here in the 1930s.


MILIBAND: So the figures are similar generation to generation.

Now, in the U.K.—I did promise Richard I’d get Brexit in somehow into this—(laughter)—in the U.K., a lot of—the whole of the debate about migration is about Catholics from Poland rather than about Muslims. So it’s important—I mean, the truth is that how different—how people who are different from each other learn to live together is one of the defining issues of the modern age. (Chuckles.) I mean, that’s the—that’s the point.

ANDERSON: Right, right.

You know, and of course, when you think about Germany, and you’ve—Germany has had Turkish workers for decades, and of course France has had people from North Africa for decades. So there is something that this is sparking an anxiety that goes well beyond the kind of modern history of—

WITTIG: Well, there were some lessons from the Turkish immigration in the ’50s and ’60s to be drawn. I mean, there was immigration from a moderate, very moderate Islamic nation, you know, still under the banner of the secular Atatürk philosophy. Today, it’s a different context.

But I think the lesson that we draw here is that we have to proactively offer language, offer job opportunities, offer vocational training, and offer our sort of vision of a liberal democratic order. And we—I think in the—in the long run we would need a kind of European Islam, you know, that is compatible with—and I think it is possible. And, you know, London elected a Muslim mayor, perfectly in sync with all the values of the U.K. So it is—it is possible, but it takes, I think, active measures to accomplish that.

ANDERSON: Let me ask one final question of the two of you before opening it to the members here. You in a sense represent different approaches. One is governmental. I mean, clearly the public sector—the government of Germany, of the EU, the United Nations all have a sort of, you know, obvious role. You represent the civil society kind of perspective. Are there ways that you think that either—that you imagine more effective collaboration across sectors? Is there a role the private sector might play here? Are we missing creative opportunities to think about addressing this permanent emergency? (Laughter.)

MILIBAND: It’s the fault of the politicians, so why don’t you go first and then I’ll explain how we’re cleaning up. (Laughter.)

WITTIG: I think the magnitude of this—of this inflow of refugees and asylum-seekers and migrants cannot be tackled by governments alone. It is a sort of a multi-stakeholder affair, if you will, and we need all the volunteers. And in my country, to my great pleasant surprise, we’ve seen, you know, an outburst of volunteerism when the refugees came, and in great numbers. So we need that civil society engagement.

And we need, of course, the business to go along. And this is where the jobs have to come from. And some of the even big businesses in Germany had a sort of avant-garde function. You know, I don’t want to name brands, but the big automakers immediately offered, you know, places for apprenticeships and so on. So this is not just a thing of the governments. It is the whole society, including business and the civil society has to be brought into that—into that challenge.

MILIBAND: Well, I strongly agree with that, but I’d frame it as follows. The humanitarian sector has been an afterthought in politics, government, and diplomacy for a very long time. It’s been an act of charity that has been reactive, that has been defined by natural disasters and emergencies, that has been expected to be short term, and that has been anticipated to be succeeded by a return to the status quo ante. None of those things are true. And if we carry on trying to run an old-style charitable, reactive, short-term system, we’re going to continue to fail, which is what we’re doing at the moment. And the gap between humanitarian need and humanitarian provision is going to grow, which it’s doing at the moment. It’s not just there are more people in need compared to the growth in the number of people who are being helped, it’s that the complexity and depth of their needs is outstripping the capacity of the sector to respond.

And I think it’s very, very important that we think in completely new ways about the way this sector runs.

The sector is defined by refugee camps; but 60 percent of refugees are not in camps, they’re in urban areas. So they need employment and they need housing a wholly different method than before.

The sector is defined by short-term lifesaving, when in fact for the generations that are in camps or in urban areas, education is as important as health care. That’s not been taken on board in any systematic way at all.

Thirdly, refugees are in countries that aren’t presumed to be poor. And the whole of the development system—the system of tackling poverty globally—is based on the fiction that you find poor people in poor countries, whereas actually there are lots of poor people in fragile, lower-middle-income countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Kenya, Ethiopia. And so we need to change the way in which the global system thinks about poverty and crisis in a very serious way.

And I would put on your agenda, for the Council, there’s a U.N. secretary-general being appointed. What questions are being asked about the vision, ideas, commitments of that person to address these points? We’re actually going to release in the next week or so eight or nine questions that we’re going to send to all of the candidates, asking for their response on how they’re going to prioritize and address the humanitarian crisis. Because in the public—it’s very good that there have been public fora, but very few questions have been about the humanitarian system.

And the humanitarian—the questions of humanitarian policy go to the heart of THE fundamental question for the next secretary-general, which is, is he or she more of a secretary or more of a general? (Laughter.) And I say that in all seriousness, because either they are there to take the notes of the big powers or they’re there to actually be a more active and proactive participant in the shaping of the decisions of the big powers. And it’s obvious that the secretary-general of the U.N. serves at the—with the confidence not just of the Security Council, but of the whole General Assembly. But it’s also important that this person is empowered to make a difference, not just to maintain the status quo, because the status quo is so obviously failing.

ANDERSON: Well, this—we could discuss the implications of sort of normalizing the responsibility to protect, and de-militarizing the responsibility to protect and so forth might be one way of thinking about that. But let me now open the floor for comments.

Now, let me remind you, before you say anything, that this meeting is on the record. Wait for the microphone. We’ll start right over here. And please tell us—stand, tell us who you are—sir, right here, yes. Tell us who you are, your name and affiliation, and then be concise.

Q: Bill Drozdiak, McLarty Associates.

I wanted to ask both speakers, how do you deal with the policy conflict between two factors. One is the demographics. In Europe, Peter, everybody knows for decades now there’s been an enormous shortfall. So one would think politicians should be able to persuade their people of the need to embraced more immigrants in order to sustain their lifestyle and pay for pensions in the future. And the same, David, in Britain, where you’ve had 330,000 come from this year, even though the government said there would only be 100,000. And it’s been a benefit for the U.K. economy. If it is politically unpalatable, to what extent would people and politicians be willing to pay for massive Marshall Plan-like programs to develop economic programs in North Africa and the Middle East in order to encourage these young people to stay home, particularly given the fact that 70 percent of their populations are under 30?

MILIBAND: Great question. I think that the—and I’m obviously based in New York now, so I’m speaking about the U.K. from a distance, but to fair to the current government they’ve maintained what the previous government started, which was Marshall Plan-style levels of expenditure on overseas aid. The 0.7 percent of GDP is spent on overseas aid. It’s very, very good. The U.S. figure is 0.21 percent, just by way of comparison. Now, the difficulty, I think, is less about the funding, which if you’ve got determined political leadership you can get away with.

I think that the more fundamental question is twofold. One, is it right to decide on refugee intake on the basis on demographics? I would say no. The point about the 1951 Refugee Convention is it gave rights—absolute rights to refugees who have got a well-founded fear of persecution. And my own experience is that when the debate about refugees and the debate about immigration get confused, you end up in trouble. And immigration policy can be decided on the basis of meeting demographic and other economic needs. But a refugee policy needs to honor the distinction between a refugee and an immigrant. And I think it’s quite important to pick that up.

The second thing is that the speed of integration, or the scale of the flow and the speed of integration are very, very tricky. I mean, there’s a huge challenge in the ambassador’s country. If half of those who are applying for asylum, for the sake of argument, are deigned to be refugees, and the rest of Europe doesn’t pick up the relocation slack, that’s a massive integration challenge in any—however efficient the state and civil society, that’s a massive challenge. And I think that our experience in the U.S., we work in 29 U.S. cities, is that it is possible to integrate large numbers of people, as long as you spread them out. And I think that that’s the conundrum that the German government faces.

WITTIG: Yeah, Will, I agree, demography is an important aspect. We are an aging society in Germany. We need immigration. And I think that has been a paradigm shift in the last decades that people realize we need and we want immigration. But I agree with David, you shouldn’t confound those two things. The one is a humanitarian challenge. And you cannot expect by taking in a big number of refugees in a short time that they will help to change the demography. It is a huge investment and it’s a huge integration challenge. It will take decades to integrate them successfully.

By the way, you mentioned sort of the tendency that they cluster all in certain usually urban areas. And we are now in a way not only stimulate them spread out, but even via legislation oblige them not to go all to the same big cities, because we fear that then they will sort of form their sub-cities and, you know, and it makes integration more difficult. That’s a measure to sort of distribute them all over the country, which is not uncontroversial. Some people oppose that, also from the NGO community. But those are all measures to help coping with this really momentous integration challenge that we will all face in Europe.

Some countries—and I again come back to Europe and to the fault lines that have emerged in Europe over the refugee crisis. Some Eastern European countries coming from a different background. They are not—they are still very homogeneous societies. They didn’t have any immigration tradition. So they find it difficult to share the burden, take in some immigrants. But in the medium and long term, we have to come to a European burden sharing. And I think those countries also have to go through a steep learning curve that immigration is, for all of our countries, an essential, and in the decades to come.

ANDERSON: Thank you. Right here. Thank you.

Q: Thank you. Joanna Weschler with Security Council Report.

I have a question actually to Ambassador Wittig, primarily, about 2011 and Syria. You were on the Security Council at that point. And you lived it very intimately. Do you think in hindsight of five years that something could have been done differently in the Council in the first several months of the Syrian crisis? Because the first time the Council was able to make even a very, very weak statement on Syria was August. And during those months, things went from distressing to pretty horrible and then to absolutely irreversible.

WITTIG: What I consider, in hindsight, the failure of the Security Council to act at the beginning of this unfolding disaster in Syria is probably one of the worst failures in the history of the Security Council. And I could pinpoint too some factors that prevented the Security Council to act. And I think one or two veto powers at the time were unwilling to sort of jump over their shadow and desist from supporting the Assad regime in 100 percent way. And I think that prevented the Council to open an avenue for a transition regime and a dialogue between the various factions in Syria at an early point, before it morphed into that kind of ethnic, religious, tribal civil war. So I consider this—and I deplore this. I lived through that. And I feel this was really a terrible failure of the Security Council, basically because of the veto powers of one or two members.

ANDERSON: Sir, in the middle. Yeah.

Q: Hi. I’m Jim Traub from

I wanted to ask about the EU refugee deal with Turkey, which, Mr. Miliband, you mentioned disparagingly. And I know that the advocacy community has been very hostile to it. But this is something I think Ambassador Wittig could address also, because my sense is that Chancellor Merkel thought that the only way that she could gain the confidence of not only the German public but European publics was to convince them that state leaders had gained control over state borders, and that this was a recognition of a political necessity, which may be an ugly necessity, but it’s a very real one.

So is your sense that that deal—that political necessity is not so great, that that deal should not have been stuck, that something altogether different should be done, or rather that maybe its terms, its better terms, need to be more enforced than they have been so far?

MILIBAND: Yeah, no, obviously it’s the latter. I mean, to be fair to myself, what I said was that the deal had engineered a pause, was it had given the Turkish government a reason to turn off the tap. Now, I believe we are paying the price now of five, possibly six years in which Europe and Turkey have drifted apart. And there is fault inside Turkey on that, and there’s fault in Europe on that as well. Actually, it probably started in 2009. And the fact that it’s now 2016 before Europe and Turkey are talking about what kind of deal can address this is probably one indication that probably Europe is playing catch up. To be fair to the prime ministers of Greece and Italy, in 2013 they were jumping up and down saying: Look, this is a crisis that we’ve got on our shores here. And no one was really listening to them, in part because you had the euro crisis consuming so much political opposition policy, opposition in Brussels, and also then subsequently because of the Ukraine crisis. And so the coming refugee crisis in 2013, 2014 didn’t really get much attention.

I think the terms of the deal are problematic because the one-in/one-out so-called idea, if you stop and think about it from a Turkish point of view, if you want Europe to take refugees, the only way you can—(audio break)—then have them shipped back, and then you replace them with someone who goes out. And that’s what the one-for-one deal means. So I think that there’s a real problem in the way that the deal, so-called, has been structured.

My own position on this is, one, a legal and orderly pipeline of people coming from the Middle East to Europe—not just from Turkey but from across the Middle East—is essential, because if there isn’t a route to hope, a legal route to hope for people, then they will be in the hands of the smugglers.

Secondly, you can only do that when you have effective European coordination. I agree with what the ambassador said about that. There’s got to be an opt-in from the whole of the European community.

Thirdly, we haven’t talked about this very much, but European public opinion—there’s an easy excuse for European public opinion at the moment when it says, well, what’s America doing about this? What’s the Gulf doing about this? There’s an easy excuse.

So it’s not just Europe that needs to get its act together. There’s a global responsibility, because the truth is that refugee-hosting countries, whether it be Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, or Kenya and Ethiopia, or Pakistan in the case of Afghans, they’re delivering on a global public good and they’re not getting supported properly for it. And I think until we address that, we’re not going to be able to get to the roots of the problem.

WITTIG: Can I offer my take on Turkey?

ANDERSON: Please, please.

WITTIG: I agree with David. I think Europe was ill-prepared for this refugee crisis. We could have seen the writing on the wall. And I think the European societies maybe didn’t see it because other problems were so preeminent.

But on Turkey, Mr. Traub, I would say the leaders, and in particular the chancellor, German chancellor, faced a situation where, in 2015, we had taken in 1.1 million refugees alone, so that the equivalent for the U.S. would be 4.4 million refugees in the year. And she knew that this couldn’t go on in that same pace and that same speed.

And so I think the starting point for this was to realize that Turkey is the gateway—or was the gateway for all the refugees coming from the Middle East and in particular Syria and Iraq. So Turkey is and was the key element to get a grip on a kind of more orderly controlled migration and refugee flow. And we don’t see eye to eye on many issues with the Turkish leadership, or on some issues, but in a way that deal has worked in bringing down the numbers dramatically.

And so the philosophy of that agreement with Turkey is take away the incentive for refugees to use human traffickers to cross the Aegean from Turkey to Greece rather than going through the procedures in Turkey, and that sort of taking the human trafficking, which is a multibillion-dollar business, out of business, that was the philosophy of the deal. And, you know, I think critics should see that so far it worked, with all the flaws that might exist in the procedure, between Greece and Turkey.


Right here in the front.

Q: Thank you. Evelyn Leopold, journalist at the United Nations.

Nice to see you again, Herr Wittig. A question for you. You mentioned Eastern Europe. The anti-immigrant movement in Germany is in Dresden, the former East Germany. And the further you go east, the more spurs of racism and unwelcome gestures to immigrants. It is because they’re not used to having grown up with any foreigners, or they have a lower economic level, or what is it?

And, Mr. Miliband, while you’re asking the secretary-general a lot of questions, can you be British and insist on fluency in the English language? (Laughter.)

MILIBAND: (Laughs.)

WITTIG: Well, Evelyn, it’s an irony—to come to your question, it’s an irony that in many parts of Europe the hostility, the xenophobic reactions are most strong in those parts where there are no refugees. And one of the explanations is that of course there are many people who are not used to change.

And I would try to understand some of the Eastern European countries and also the eastern part of Germany. They have gone through so much change in their life, and not all people of all ages can take a lot of change in their lives. So I think this would be sort of the benevolent, benign explanation, that in many cases those who turn against refugees are the losers of globalization. And this is sort of a Western phenomenon. We see this here in this country as well.

And this, I think, is an incentive for politicians, for leaders not to just write those people off but somehow try not to lose them, explain to them why it might be beneficial to invest in integration, et cetera. That’s a huge task, I know, but I think it’s important to realize that there were losers. The last decades were not just a win-win game and we’ve got to look after those losers in a more sustainable manner.

MILIBAND: Can I make a point?


MILIBAND: Sorry to prevent a question, but I want to make a point that links quite a lot of the discussion we had and quite a lot of the questions already.

Until the eurozone starts growing fast, there’s going to be a—it’s going to be next to impossible to make this work. I mean, the economics underpinning integration are absolutely vital to maintaining consent. And there’s been—in the first quarter of this year the figures are better, not 0.6 percent growth, but there’s never been a better time for big infrastructure spending, given the low interest rates around the world. But that means really thinking hard about some of the economic imbalances within the European Union, never mind globally. And that obviously means there’s big responsibility in Germany.

But my honest fear is that unless—until the economics shifts, we are going to find it very, very hard to make this work. I mean, the power of economic growth to grease the wheels of integration and to dilute tension cannot be underestimated. I mean, in the U.K. you’ve got a huge level of concern about immigration in this Brexit debate. Unemployment is at 5 percent. If unemployment were at 10 percent, I guarantee you it would be a much, much more difficult argument to win. Thank goodness unemployment in Germany is relatively low, but there is an economic element to the stress that’s felt in countries like France, about which I’m worried, that is really fundamental.

ANDERSON: You said earlier that the United States and the Gulf hadn’t stepped up and therefore we should before we criticize Europeans and so forth. What would you ask the Gulf to do?

MILIBAND: Well, they can sign the Refugee Convention, for starters. That would be a good—that would be—

ANDERSON: But would you expect them resettle—to have refugees come and—

MILIBAND: Look, one’s got to be fair about this in the Gulf, because some people say, just look at the figures for Saudi Arabia or for UAE; they have zero refugees. Well, that’s true because they don’t sign the convention. That doesn’t mean there are zero Syrians in Saudi Arabia or zero Syrians in the UAE. There are 500,000 Syrians in Saudi Arabia and 120,000 Syrians in the UAE. They’re just not classified as refugees. Many of them were there before the war.

I haven’t got, off the top of my head, the figures for who have come in the last five years, but I think that we should be upholding the basic principle that all countries should sign the Refugee Convention and that all should contribute to the delivery of this global public good.


Right here.

Q: Thank you. Felice Gaer, the Jacob Blaustein Institute.

You spoke of the practical and economic problems that are created by the current waves of migration and refugees. Arthur Helton also cared about the legal aspects. And when speaking about the Refugee Convention, I’m wondering if you think this is a time for the definition of “refugee” to be looked at again. Is that an issue?

And secondly are the people who are raising security concerns irrelevant? Or how would you address those concerns, even if there are only 40 that you can count who are unaccompanied men in the U.S.?

MILIBAND: Well, let me take the second question first. I have absolutely no hesitation in saying, as a humanitarian, it’s absolutely right to have security as a factor that plays into this. But I can also say the U.S., partly because of the blessings of geography, has an extraordinary opportunity to vet those who are trying to—who are applying to come here and to weed out anyone you don’t want. So it takes 18 to 24 months. There are 12 to 15 government agencies involved. There are biometric testing. And if people can’t prove who they are, you don’t have to let them in. The burden of proof is on the refugee to prove that they’re going to be productive citizens, not on you to stop them coming. You don’t have to take anyone. You can—you can make your own choices. And that’s what makes this particularly distressing.

It’s doubling distressing when you think about what refugees have contributed to this country, because we’re talking about a quote, unquote “burden.” We’re talking about everyone from Albert Einstein, to Madeline Albright, to Sergey Brin, to Andy Grove, who recently, but he was resettled by the IRC from Hungary in 1956, and he goes on to found Intel. I mean, this is a country that has not just done the right thing in admitting refugees, it’s done a smart thing. And they actually help produce the country that we all live in now. So I think that it’s right to address the security concerns, but it’s not right to fall for fearmongering. And the idea that people are flowing in here without any checks is just simply untrue. And we can speak to that.

On the legal side, I’ll tell you my real fear there. I think once you open up the 1951 convention and the 1967 amendments, I don’t know where it will end up. And I think the danger is that we lose the gains that have been made. Now, there are real issues about this. You know, someone who comes from Syria to Jordan, who lives in Jordan for two years, and then moves on, yes, they’re a refugee, but they’ve actually been living in another country. They’re not a refugee from Jordan. They’re a refugee from Syria. So there are—there are issues there. A well-founded fear of persecution, how does that extend to fearing that you’re going to have a barrel bomb dropped on the house that you’re living in? I mean, there are issues there.

But my own political judgement would be to defend the distinction between the refugee and an immigrant—not that one is good and the other’s bad, but they’re just different—and not to open up the legal questions, because I think that—I don’t think you’ll get to a resolution, and if you do it won’t be a—it won’t be a happy one.

WITTIG: Can I add something to it? I feel that it is a new category of people coming to Europe in that instance, in a new gray zone. They are neither sort of politically persecuted, or not fleeing outright civil war. So they don’t really qualify as a valid asylum seeker, nor are they are just economic migrants that come for a good job. But people have lost hope in the future of their country, that is fragile and unstable, and don’t see any future for their kids. So that’s why so many people, for instance, come from Afghanistan. And they are not in one of those two categories, but in the middle. And then the question is, how do we deal with those people? And potentially there are millions more in those categories.

ANDERSON: Mmm hmm. Yeah, true. Sir.

Q: Jeff Laurenti.

I wonder if you all might be able to compare the conditions in which displaced persons within Syria, inside Syrian refugee or displaced person facilities, compare with, A, those in the neighboring countries and then, B, conditions in African situations, because they are entirely off our radar screen, yet as David Miliband told us, you have enormous numbers of Africans who are across the border in refugee camps. And one senses that one of the reasons why when the Italians we’re trying to get attention was because it wasn’t Libyans who were coming, for all the chaos in Libya across the Mediterranean it Italy, it was largely black Africans. Do we have comparable levels of care, of support, of sustenance in these different situations? Or are some more privileged refugees, in a sense, than others, both in terms of international attention and in terms of the resources devoted to them and willingness to take them in?

WITTIG: I defer to you.

MILIBAND: So if you’re an internally displaced person in Syria, that’s the worst possible situation to be in, not least because there’s still grave danger to your life. And the fighting is carrying on and the bombing raids are carrying on and your life is danger and there are not IDP centers. You know, we are delivering health care in the midst of bombed out buildings.

So then, secondly, the refugees who are in Turkey, and Jordan, and Lebanon, they’re middle class, compared to African refugees, partly because they’re middle class people, secondly because they’ve moved into societies that are more developed societies. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t hellish and difficult conditions that people are living in. The vast bulk of them are not in camps. The vast bulk of them are not allowed to work. The vast bulk of them are being missed out by different bits of the humanitarian sector.

You can go all the way across the Beqaa Valley and you’ll see hundreds of thousands of people whose kids are not getting an education, 200,000 kids Syrian kids in Lebanon are not getting an education. There’s no prospect of them having housing. There’s informal settlements. It’s a very, very difficult—they’re subject to new visa checks. It’s a very, very difficult situation. They’ve run out of savings. These are the people who came with savings.

I’m glad you mentioned the situation in Africa because it’s not—it’s very, very serious to be displaced from a poor country to another poor country. I mean, that’s a very, very tough situation to be in. Although, I would tell you that your survival chances inside a refugee camp in Kenya are greater than those Kenyans who are living outside the refugee camp. And that is a big political problem.

ANDERSON: I’m afraid this is going to have to be the last question. So please make it short. Right here, on the—yes.

MILIBAND: You should let the people in the back speak.

Q: The question I have—oh, Stephen Black (sp), sorry.

What happens tomorrow? As the discussion went on, the recommendations offered are wise, often, but they’re middle term at best, in cases of, say, faster growth in Europe longer term. But the situation in the source countries of refugees is not going to get better. The situation in the camps isn’t going to get better. So what happens tomorrow, what happens next week, what happens in the next year? What is this situation going to look like? And what can be done, in your view, more immediately to deal with these concerns, rather than waiting for European attitudes to change and European growth to increase, and so on?

MILIBAND: So you are going to go out of this meeting, you’re going to visit the IRC website, You’re going to rally your community—(laughter)—to become part of the IRC family by volunteering in the New York or New Jersey resettlement office to mentor new refugees. You’re going to rally your local church or synagogue or community to become donors to the IRC, so that we can do more. You’re going to talk to your plutocratic friends and make them—(laughter)—signature investors in the IRC.

And I say that not just because it’s my job as the head of an NGO to urge you to support us, but because American leadership has got to mean American leadership. And the truth is, that on humanitarian questions now, Europe is not one country—I mean, Europe’s 28 country—but Europe is now a larger humanitarian donor than the U.S. In a way, it’s not fair to compare 28 countries to one country, but you like to think of yourselves as the most generous nation on Earth, as the people who are at the forefront of all of the human progress. Here’s an opportunity to step forward.

Secondly, on the refugee resettlement, where the U.S. has genuinely been a historic leader, and has historically taken 45 to 50 percent of the world’s resettled refugee, you’re not going to be doing that this year. I mean, this gentleman’s country is going to be the world leader in refugee resettlement. And it is within the power of the executive branch of your political system not to say we’ll have 10,000 refugees. You can decide how many refugees you take. And you can decide what sort of pressure goes on Congress for overseas aid. And you can therefore decide how you’re going to share the burdens of globalization, while you enjoy the blessings of globalization.

And as someone who’s not an American, but does live here and obviously admires the country hugely, there’s an absolutely fundamental debate to be had about what it means to be the world’s global superpower. You’re not a hyper-power. You’re not a dictatorial power. But you all agree that you’re the indispensable power. And figuring out what it means to be an indispensable power in this humanitarian sector is something that needs to—that’s something that does need to be debated and argued over. And frankly, policy change tomorrow, the president’s got a summit in the U.N. on the 20th of September. What’s going to come out of it? What new commitments is the U.S. going to be making at that summit? And the fact that Richard told me before the—before the show—(laughter)—before the meeting started that the Council is dedicating itself to global literacy around the—is that right? Yeah, global literacy around the U.S., how American citizens think of themselves not just as American citizens but as global citizens, that’s the kind of thing that’s really, really important because we all know that the lessons of history are that when countries like the U.S. turn inward, there’s only trouble around the corner. So I hope there are some really practical things that you can do coming out of the meeting.

WITTIG: I cannot—I cannot top that, so I subscribe to every word. (Applause.)

ANDERSON: On behalf of all of us here, I want to thank the Council and Arthur Helton’s family for permitting us to have what was a very interesting and fruitful discussion. And thank you both.

MILIBND: Thank you very much. Thank you, Ambassador. (Laughs.) (Applause.)


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