The Global Refugee Crisis: A Conversation with David MilibandJun 07, 2021
Hello everyone, I'm Steen Cohen and I want to welcome you back to another of our
conversations. It is my great pleasure today to introduce you to David Miliband. David Milband is the president of the International Rescue Committee before that. Truly stellar career in British politics, he served as Foreign Secretary from 2007 to 2010, which I think when we met I was working for Secretary Rice and I often had the opportunity to sit behind her as she interacted with abroad. secretary on a lot of issues, I think we took at least one trip together to Afghanistan, which I remember vividly, and we've been in touch ever since, so I'm very glad that he's willing to join us as uh.
As we usually do these things, I will have about half an hour of
conversationwith David Miliband and then open the floor to questions. Please post questions in the questions section. Our experience is that it tends to get a little full, so the sooner you put your thoughts there, the quicker I'll get to them. Please put your name there and, as always, I privilege student questions first, but we can likely accommodate many others. Well, David, welcome, thank you so much for doing this, thank you Elliot, it's a pleasure to be with you, so, sort of, with you, not really, it would be nice to be with you properly, well, I wish, I really wish I were.
I welcome you to our uh uh to evaluate a physical exam in our physical presence, but uh those days are coming, but unfortunately they are not here yet, so I thought if we could start a little bit about your own biography. You started out in British politics and the Labor Party. Could you talk a little bit about that? Yes, then I am, perhaps, older than I look. In the late '80s, I was asked by the then Public Policy Research Institute, which was a think tank founded by people who were concerned that unions had specialized in losing elections, a world record, and they wanted to do something about it to try to develop a modern social democratic programme, and then after the 1992 election, which was our fourth electoral defeat in a Row, the then leader of the party, John Smith, asked me to be secretary of something called the Social Justice Commission, that we had to rethink our approach to the welfare state, 40 or 50 years after the drinking in the Second World War and then, John, tragically.
He died in '94 and uh just before the social justice commission was published uh the report was published Tony Blair said well I've heard of this guy, I don't know, I don't really know him very well, but it seems like he does. wanted to have something on him and he asked me to come and run his policy shop, really his internal policy shop, so he was leader of the opposition after '94. And, really, it was simple, we had to get rid of the baggage and nurture the magic and that's what we did in the '97 election, I wrote the manifesto for that I was involved in the later manifestos but then, to my own surprise, I became a member of parliament and then, um, in the brown government, oh , was Minister for Schools and various other things, and then at the Golden Brown I was given the privilege of being Foreign Secretary and Foreign Secretary to go on to be the 74th Secretary of State of the United Kingdom, which I had the opportunity to spending 18 months, at the end of the second Bush administration, working with Condi Rice and then 18 months at the beginning of the Obama administration working with Hillary Clinton and that was a really remarkable period and obviously we were at what now seems like a hinge in the history because that was the time of the
crisisand it was right at the time when the Chinese system was gaining confidence in its own thinking and the way it wanted to position itself in the world just before Xi Jinping came to power and since 2013, the electorate cut short my political career in 2010 twice. first with the elected uh we were kicked out of government but out of office the Labor government was out of office still not coming back and then I lost the Labor party leadership election I was still a member of parliament obviously in our system .
Hmm, but I had this remarkable stroke of luck in 2013 as I was strumming my fingers on the table wondering how I could square my determination to speak out without seeming like a divisive figure in politics, this opportunity arose to put my experience and values into practice. at the international rescue committee, which is this extraordinary charity founded by albert einstein in the 1930s to rescue jews from europe, now a
globalhumanitarian charity, and i explained to the interview committee that some of the questions at the intersection of foreign policy and humanitarian affairs are some of the most difficult questions in global public life: How do you get medical aid to Syria?
How is education taught in Afghanistan? How is sexual violence addressed in the Congo? So I said I like difficult problems. Secondly, IRC was a bit of a sleeping giant. We were an organization of 400 million at that time, but very few people. It was a well-kept secret and I felt I had a responsibility to be a thought leader as a charity focused on people whose lives are torn apart by conflict, disaster and persecution. and then thirdly, my own parents have been
refugees from Belgium and Poland in the UK, so it came full circle and for those reasons, and since the end of 2013, I have been in the UK and had the great lucky to go and lead. an extraordinary team of people in what is now an organization of 850 million in 200 field sites around the world, so this is a quick tour of how we got here and obviously the most important thing is that in 2015 I gave the speech of graduation as size there is no greater honor yes no, I'm sure that was the pinnacle of your maybe someone can put it in the chat or something, yeah, well, let's see, actually, danielle, if you're out there, I want See if you can dig it up.
That is an extraordinary career. I will know that the Labor Party didn't win any elections after you left the leadership and actually went to a pretty dark place, in a way, I would say under Jeremy Corbyn, yes, but before. We're going to irc, and obviously I want to upload, that's what we're going to talk about. How do you explain the employment situation? Yes, what happened to the Labor Party? Well, I think the simple answer is that they caught him. in no man's land between embracing our time in government and rejecting our time in government when the truth is that you need to take advantage of your time income and got into this false debate where we effectively trash our own record, allow ourselves to walk away from the concerns of the voters and we lost both the need for credibility and the need for radicalism and we ended up with an incredible program that of course is not radical at all because if it is not going to change anything then I am not going to the accountants to account for anything and that is very simplistic, there is a lot more going on, the rise of Scottish nationalism, it is a major feature of the fragmentation of UK politics, historically Labor has been very strong in Scotland, we have lost out of the 50-odd We have lost all but a handful of seats in Scotland, and obviously there is also the process that has been in the news recently of the alignment between traditional working class communities and centre-left parties, which is not just a feature of the UK, some of that is happening here, so I don't want to oversimplify, but I think we've spent 10 years in that no man's land, 11 years and the electorate is screaming at us quite clearly that when we put forward candidates who are incredible to their eyes and that they can't meet their needs, they will vote against you and we shouldn't be surprised, you know, yeah, just the last question, so we'll go to irc, see this?
As part of a larger
crisisin liberal democratic governance with big parties that were in serious trouble, I was talking to a friend of mine who is quite high in the Biden administration and they were talking about the helpless state of American politics, as you. You probably know that I was once a Republican. And I'm not. Now I'm not eligible for IRC, but I'm politically homeless. And you know his comment was: he said the Republicans. "We are in a really desperate situation. He said I'm not so sure about my own party. In the long term, I want to say that for the moment we will stick together.
But I am worried about the dysfunctionality of our two big parties and there is a kind of stability, um here, this somewhat different way that there was in the UK of having a multi-party system, but that was based on two big parties dominating, so I'm curious to see this as a bigger problem, yeah, I mean, the answer short is yes, it's obviously eating up the center left vote by nationalists and green movements, sometimes by compassionate conservatives, by populist conservatives, um and also in some places by the hard left, so that's happening in the centre-left, but I also think there is a real crisis of conservatism: the conservative party in Britain has done something revolutionary in Brexit that is not a conservation of institutions, it is something revolutionary and, um, there is a kind of right-wing Trotskyism that It's taking place in a number of places, I mean, I mean, I'm not a hustler, I'm a social democrat, not a conservative, I'm center left rather than center right, but I think that liberal democratic competitive politics has become very fragmented in the systems multi-party and bi-party, which is essentially what the United States is and significantly the United Kingdom, although in Scotland and Wales it is multi-party.
I think both sides are being swallowed up and that's the result of structural forces as well as contingent decisions and that's what makes me think it's very, very serious. Something tells me that you and I could have a long conversation about this because I think it's one of the central issues of our time, but let's move on to irc um it's very surprising to me that you know that you are the son of immigrants, I think the more close you are to an immigrant
refugeeexperience, the more it affects you uh, I mean, my grandparents were in that category but um uh so less direct but still let me ask you this you know so you mentioned the history of the irc founded by einstein um to support the Jewish refugees in the uh in the 1930s um you know I've always been interested in that Organizations have a kind of DNA, so how would you characterize the DNA of the International Rescue Committee?
I mean, I think the DNA is that the temptation is to go to Einstein, the DNA, but I would rather go to Idlib or me. I would rather go to Helmand in Afghanistan or I would rather go to the Kivus in the east of the DRC because most of the people who work for us 95 of the people who work for us are recruited in those places now we are also the The resettlement agency largest refugee in the United States with 25 offices, so I would also say: let's go to Boise, Idaho, let's go to Salt Lake City, let's go to Los Angeles or New York, and there you would find real practical intelligence, I think that's the DNA. from the irc is, uh, just give an example, they are people there are 800 people in Greece, they walked 40 kilometers from a landing on the coast, it's not like that, they need to get 40 kilometers, sorry, to the UN registration site.
I have walked eight, there is supposed to be a bus and there is no bus. The IRC finds out and deals with it. I say it because I have seen it. Staff were able to classify people as those in need of immediate medical attention. and those who don't, those who are unaccompanied children and those who are the ones who can take care of themselves and those who can't, organize the bus schedule, bring the treatment where it is needed and, by the way, because I had these conversations, there are diabetics without adequate insulin there are cancer patients without adequate treatment um there are pregnant women who need support so it's not just about organizing a bus and they organize the bus in such a way that there are 800 people there but not everyone tries to get on the first bus , it is orderly, it is organized, it is respectful, it is dignified, that is why I believe that the DNA of IRC is practical intelligence.
Now I think there is a danger in the modern world that we think that practical intelligence can speak for itself, but in reality, you can't be an operational leader. We maintain that we also have to be an intellectual leader and we have to learn the lessons from our work with refugees in Greece or from our work with malnourished children in South Sudan or from our work with victims. of gender violence almost anywhere, in fact, in Myanmar or in Bangladesh, we have to take that and we have to broadcast it to a global audience, release it to a larger audience and that is where I hope it becomes is a charity and a NGO that is strengthened thanks to its approach.
We are not just a general anti-poverty agency where we work across the entire arc of the crisis, from the war zone to the displacedinterns, refugees and then resettlement in the United States in which we find ourselves. In that arc we work in 40 countries, not in 140 countries, we have operational intelligence, but we are also a thinking NGO and we take the lessons and try to influence the way the big players in the global system work. Sorry for the long response. but no, that's expressive, it's fascinating how many people you have working for you, that's interesting, now we have about 14,000 employees and 18,000 volunteers who are called volunteers, but that doesn't mean they are working without pay.
I mean they're working their day to day, their incentive workers, if you like. We're a pretty big organization now, obviously the hardest thing in an NGO is raising funds for the back office. Nobody wants to pay for the computer system. Nobody wants to pay for human resources. Nobody wants to pay for security. so we have a job to make sure that we can meet our commitments to program quality for results, evidence-based work for cost-effectiveness and cost-effectiveness, and you know that's a struggle to achieve. The operational and programmatic balance is a huge thing, but really, if someone goes to the rc website, um Rescue.org, they'll see clients and staff talking about what we're doing, they'll see as well. statistics about what we are doing and transparency I think is really important so what is it? uh, you know, it's funny.
I have been giving money to irc for as long as I can remember. Thank you very much, that's a lot. I appreciate a fairly modest amount, so you can give more too. I'll give more after this. I thought I don't doubt it. I had no idea how big it was, how an organization like the IRC works and then. I'm going to want us to get into the essence of the world we're in now. How does an organization like the IRC decide? You know, what are the things that we do compared to the things that governments do. you step in when governments are just failing, yeah, are there kinds of things that governments just don't do that you step in, how and then how do you divide the work?
You know you're not the only charity doing this. these kinds of things, how do you guys decide who's going to do what or really good? That is a very good question and in all seriousness, thank you for your support, that is significant. Look, I'm very proud that we have strict entry and exit criteria, so we will only work somewhere if three conditions are met: there is a real crisis or a threat of a crisis and just because there is poverty doesn't mean we have to be there, so we are in Pakistan, but we are Not in India to make it clear that we are in Bangladesh, we are not in Sri Lanka.
The second point is that poverty and vulnerability are increasing, so we have now abandoned Rwanda because it is a development context. Third, and I'll get right to your point. We only work where someone else is not doing a better job and in some places that could be the government, although in most places where we work the government is competent in the local conflict and that creates all kinds of problems, but it could be a NGO, it could be a local NGO, it could be UNICEF or a UN agency because UN agencies are both funders, fundraisers and delivery agencies, so it's complicated, but we don't have three of us appearing in the same place to make a living. program because there is something called the un cluster system that tries to ensure that and generally manages to ensure that we don't end up going to the same place.
There is a big mistake here. People think, well, now I have $850 million. and I'm deciding, well, we'll spend so much in Bangladesh and we'll spend so much in Syria. It does not work like that. Three-quarters of our money comes from governments, so there are bureaucracies that decide we want to do a program in Bangladesh and we don't want to do a program in Syria and then we apply for the grant to deliver it now. 25 of our money comes from individual foundations and corporations. We have more or less doubled that percentage in the last six years. Seven years. um, which gives us a little more flexibility because generally private sector support is longer term and has less conditions and bureaucracy, but essentially I'm not making the decisions about where governments are going to prioritize, other people do that .
What we are making decisions about is whether to bid for a Syria country program or a DRT country program to decide. Well, we're going to go with this because you know we have our results and our evidence framework. whoever is interested can go and if they type into google irc results and evidence framework they will see how we judge what works in the humanitarian sector and what we do best and that is what our country directors see too and that is what guides us when deciding whether or not to apply for a grant is fascinating. Can you generalize in any way about how long you are likely to stay in a country or is it completely variable?
Well too long is the short answer because you know you are an esteemed diplomat, we have a diplomacy crisis when it comes to civil wars, yes the average duration of a civil war has more or less doubled, tripled or quadrupled in the last anus. um David's book I don't remember his name who's called civil wars who has the statistics and um essentially the tools of diplomacy that you and I understand for interstate diplomacy are not and actually the philosophies that apply to interstate diplomacy are not They are very well-honed in trust, a conflict, yes, don't mess with internal affairs, well, where does that leave you in the case of Syria, where does that leave you in the case of South Sudan, where does it let the civilians be killed and that's why we stay for a long time?
I have been in Afghanistan, which you know very well since the 1970s and on the one hand I say it with pride, on the other hand I say it with regret because it means that things have continued very badly, no, it is a different kind of diplomacy. See um, I'm not quite sure why I've been reading a lot of modern Turkish history recently, including the Armenian genocide period, and you know you see outside actors, including Germans, but also, most notably, Americans. to deal with it with traditional diplomacy and they really can't do it, so let's talk about the substance, so I'm correct in assuming that you think that we are actually in a period with this type of crisis. that causes the irc response to get worse, yes, I probably should have said this before, the title of this session is about the refugee crisis, which is an important part of what we do, although it is important to have some numbers, I mean, I know Stalin.
He said that the death of a man is a tragedy in the death of people as a statistic, so I'm using that, but I'm going to throw many millions at you, but I think it's important only because he will do it. explain something: 35 million people were expelled from their home country and crossed a border as a result of war, conflict and persecution. Approximately 31 million. 32 million have qualified as refugees, so they have been granted refugee status either by the UN or by the country in question. There are a million and a half asylum seekers, so they are still trying to apply for refugee status, but 35 million, 45 million internally displaced people are homeless within their own country, so, to give you an example of What that means, there are five and a half million, six million refugees. from Syria three million 3.5 million in Turkey one million in Lebanon half a million in Jordan three quarters of a million or one million in uh Germany um internal displacement eight million in Syria and in the province of Idlib which is in the northwest of the country where uh three and a half, you know, four and more live four and a quarter million people, a million of them have been displaced from other parts of Syria in the last 10 years, that's internal displacement, so 35 million refugees 45 million refugees seeking asylum 45 million internally displaced 80 million people, more than one percent of the world's population, in other words, displaced by conflict and persecution, no, and we will return to whether this is a difference without a subset without substance, but not economically, not economic migrants and the definitive refugee is someone. who has a well-founded fear of persecution, that is the 1951 convention, as I would put it more colloquially, is someone for whom it is not safe to return home, so if you are afraid of being dragged into Assad's army, it is not safe return home if you are afraid of being attacked by a gang in el salvador it is not safe to return home if you are a woman who is being beaten by your husband or by you or other people it is not safe to return home so someone who has run away from his country and cannot return home he is a refugee, not an economic migrant and the number of economic migrants is obviously much higher now that the increase in the number of refugees is more or less 50 40 since I started uh six seven years ago and the number of internally displaced people is at a record level as well as on internal screens and just to give you an idea, I asked my team to remind me of the five countries of origin responsible for 67, so two thirds of all Refugees come from the following five countries. syria venezuela afghanistan south sudan myanmar the top five destination countries are interesting turkey colombia pakistan uganda germany and then the top five countries with conflict related internal displacement so the number of internally displaced persons syria six and a half million like I said I think I said eight million six nine when it says here colombia drc democratic republic of the congo yemen 3.6 million afghanistan 3 million conflicts 1.2 million in addition to natural disasters and those are people in the case of refugees 60 of whom are in urban areas, not in camps, people often say To me, you should work in refugee camps and we do, but only about twenty, about four or five million people in refugee camps.
Most people are in urban areas, they rent, beg, borrow or live with relatives in urban areas. It's a different geography and I'm sorry, a very long lecture, but the last part of the statistical blizzard, um, the average duration of displacement is completely different than when the refugee convention was created because obviously World War II was a six-year conflict and it was In light of the Second World War, the refugee convention was drafted today, it is difficult to obtain statistics, but we are talking about multigenerational conflicts. 15 20 25 years of displacement and so the best way to think about it is less than three percent. of the world's refugees returned home last year, which tells you that they are the host countries, which are mostly poor countries, not rich countries.
You know, the debate in the United States or in Europe is ridiculous because it is the Bangladesh of this world, it is the Uganda of this world that hosts the majority of refugees, not the Americas and the United Kingdom of this world, but people are away for a long time and therefore the sustainable solution has to be to integrate them into local economic life and then ask whether they do it or not. becoming citizens different countries taking different approaches overwhelming and fascinating let me by the way uh just uh those of you who are listening uh please put your questions in the q a no, not in the chat and um uh I'll get to them in a moment So let me ask you this question.
Those are discouraging statistics. I'm not sure if I'm asking you this question in your capacity as IRC Chairman or as its former Foreign Secretary. Is there a systemic explanation for why these whys? has the phenomenon gotten much worse or is it just okay that there was a terrible civil war in Syria, you know, there was some kind of horrific collapse of domestic politics in Myanmar, in other words, should we look for some general pattern here that helps explain? This or it would be inappropriate I think we should look for a general pat and abuse. I wrote a book about this, so I learned in America that it's okay to flaunt your posts for once.
It's a book called Refugee Rescue. and the political crisis of our time and it's short, so it has a lot to praise for that reason and I thought about this and I didn't. I can't give you a single word of explanation, but I think there are four explanatory variables. because of the increase in the number of refugees and, according to your point, they are structural, they are long-term, not short-term, they are structural, not cyclical, there are a large and growing number of what I would call fragile states around the world, um, fragile. not in the economic sense of the world bank, but in the political sense that their political systems are incapable of forging compromise across divisions of race, religion and regional ethnicity, so there is a political part of the explanation for the domestic politics in fragile states.
A second part of the explanation is the global system and the stagnant nature of diplomacy in, let's be frank, in Syria because of the Russian attitude in Yemen because of theattitude of the United States until recently, global politics is far from being the key to unlocking responses to peaceful resolution has become a magnifying glass the number of internationalized conflicts the number of conflicts civil wars in which there are external actors has increased enormously Now I just want to say right away that I'm not naive, I know that the cold war was marked by a lot of external intervention in civil wars, but we haven't learned our lesson.
It is quite difficult to talk about the third part, you have to tread carefully, but it strikes me that there are turbulent conflicts in important parts of the Islamic world, not all, but in important and important divisions and we were founded as a secular agency by albert einstein uh and the um, but it's amazing that about 45 of the places that we work in are Muslim majority countries and there will be scholars and experts. I will be able to talk about how some of this is divisions within countries, some of this is due to intra-regional conflicts or the example of Yemen, eh, and then the fourth one is that you will surely ask about this and I didn't give it enough. um game in my little book is obviously the climate is a conflict multiplier the climate crisis is a complexmultiplier personally I don't talk about climate refugees and I don't because generally the people who move as a result of the climate crisis don't cross borders, they are displaced climate insiders rather than refugees, but that's a little pedantic of me, but they are, but there's certainly a force multiplier, a conflict multiplier because the climate crisis in resorts increases the stress on resources and the Resource stress generates conflicts.
Well, I'm going to blatantly turn to the question. I could easily continue on my own. Let me. Leave. to start with justin marcello uh structural innovations and changes in the humanitarian system often arise in response to major crises, this is the 10th anniversary of the syrian crisis, how has syria in particular changed and i think it's a very good asks the IRC's approach to humanitarian crises? But more generally, I think Justin is also wondering what reforms the humanitarian sector needs to make, so I guess peer institutions need to make to improve the response to crises like Syria.
Well, I'll just mention three ways that Syria has changed the way we live. working inside Syria, a much more remote management because it is very difficult to achieve that. Secondly, a lot more use of partner organizations, which really helps us get to places we wouldn't otherwise get to, and thirdly, the most interesting in some ways, the best. our best customer feedback mechanisms in Syria, maybe it takes being the mother of invention, but I am very proud of the way we really listen to our customers about what they want, how they rate the services, what they want us to improve , so that's just the way it's affected us, how Syria has affected the global system, not nearly enough for Eliot, not nearly enough, I mean, the global system is chasing its tail, no. it's reforming and I could sort of complain about Britain about this, um, but let me tell you. a few, a few examples, first of all, I talk a lot about the era of impunity, I mean, Syria is the example of impunity in the global system.
Our own staff are killed. Civilians are attacked. There is no accountability. UN investigations block Belling Cat and New York. Sometimes I am working much more on what is dry about acts of impunity than on UN investigations. Secondly, on the humanitarian side for countries that support refugees. I'm thinking about Jordan, I'm thinking about Lebanon, I'm thinking about Turkey, to a lesser extent. I'm thinking of Iraq, to a much lesser extent, very serious failure on the part of the global system to recognize that Jordan and Lebanon are two examples of how to provide a global public good by supporting refugees.
I could have told you in 2013-2014 that there was an explosion coming and sure enough there was and it ended up on the shores of Europe, so support for countries hosting refugees is weak. Third, humanitarian development systems do not work in a coordinated manner. We talk a lot on IRC about results until I've shared results for an actor. whether it is a development actor or a humanitarian actor, whether it is a government or an NGO, whether it is a UN institution or a local body, unless there is alignment behind a set of outcomes and we would choose poverty, education in health and equality for women and inequality. for women as the four key guiding positions and without shared responsibility real and sustained change will not be achieved, which is why 10 years later, 250,000 children in Lebanon who are Syrian are still not receiving education because there are no adequate systems to join to humanitarian aid. and development efforts together fourth and I will not worry, there will be no fourteenth, two thirds of our clients are women and girls, women and girls face structural and multiple inequalities in the places where I work and there is no recognition adequate of the additional needs of women and girls, so when the UN covert appeal came, 30 UN agencies contributed, only one of them highlighted gender-based violence, but we know that gender-based violence goes away and how many politicians have made speeches about this, so it's a real frustration that there hasn't been an update and one of our big points is that the sustainable development goals that I'm sure people study in size are off track in the states fragile even before covid um in part important because those kinds of issues that I have raised are not adequately addressed fascinating, I mean, depressing, let me ask you, we have like one of our mid-career students, uh, julian soyka, how How should developed countries react to the increased number of refugees and what they could do at a structural level to stabilize regions in crisis.
I'm going to let me, maybe if you could address that, I'll ask you to follow up more specifically on that, well, I mean refugee resettlement, which is a small part of the overall refugee response that we do in the US. It is an important part of the equation for the most vulnerable widows, victims of torture, etc., but the vast majority of people are not going to be resettled in rich countries and, frankly, the vast majority of people do not want to be resettled in rich countries, I mean, the moment you can make Syrians smile is when you ask them whether they will ever come home or not and they say they hope so, inshallah, so I think Well, the question of how to support states hosting refugees is a matter of degree and I don't want to oversimplify, but if you don't recognize that host populations are poor and refugees are poor, you have a big problem, so there needs to be support not just for the refugees but also for host populations.
I mean, Jordan has a 25-30 unemployment rate among the Jordanian population, so there should be no animosity and, in fact, it is a reason to support cash distribution as the best first response. What explains a refugee crisis is that it supports the local economy as well as the refugees. Second, refugees must be allowed to work, but if we want to get them to work, we must have macroeconomic support from the world's international financial institutions. the bank has changed a lot it has changed a lot under jim kim's government uh we need the imf to change we need a much more systematic effort to support states hosting refugees because of this good global public idea larry summers has written about this from his council global development position, thirdly, I think that in addition to economic integration, which is essentially, we must recognize the burden that falls on the host states in the social aspect as well, so they need support in the social aspect as well. because if you don't provide that support, then people will move again and that's what's happening in South America.
Frankly, people are our estimate. Do you know why people walk two or three thousand miles from uh or kilometers from El Salvador? It's not just because they want to. leaving El Salvador is that they don't find anywhere to stop along the way and that's dangerous for them and it's not really a sustainable solution, so it's easier there are a lot of moves without regrets, just the bottom line, I don't want to pretend. it's easy because it's not easy politics is very difficult um but politics isn't easy either okay here's the most important part of that I mean syria has kept coming up several times um there were several of us who were critical of the obama administration for keeping basically a non-intervention position in Syria uh of course Britain like the United States um after the experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq acquired an understandable allergy to interventions um in those types of cases, but would you agree that there is a lot? which organizations like the irc can do and you're basically in the position of the emergency room team trying to heal a bleeding patient and stabilize them so they have some chance of survival when you know other types of involvement, uh, possibly. in some cases military commitment is even included, although that should be a last resort.
They are also necessary or that would be taking it too far. We are certainly dealing with the symptoms, not the causes, and that is a frustration, definitely a frustration. Some of what we do takes a long time. -term positive effects, but we're, we're dealing with the um, it wasn't a particularly direct question actually unless I'm saying unless unless I've been are you trying to get me to say would I? support military intervention or uh no no, but I understand it could be interpreted that way um, I mean, first point um we're dealing with the symptoms a lot and that's frustrating uh definitely um, in that sense we're agenda takers, not agenda setters. agenda, certainly the macro level, secondly, we are all marked by Iraq and Afghanistan.
My opinion, which does not surprise me, as I was saying in the government, is that no military strategy, no diplomatic strategy, no development strategy, no humanitarian strategy will work without a political agreement that is I am trying to lead and I am increasingly more of the opinion that in most cases we work on a national and local political agreement, but also regional and that is a complicated policy, but it needs to be sustained, but in all the places where we were. They really have regional effects, as well as regional actors and local actors. Thirdly, we cannot be imprisoned for the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan and I run a humanitarian organization so I am extremely careful about what I say.
Since I have people on the ground, I don't want to put them in a difficult situation, but I think that, as a general point, it would be wrong for them to imprison me for that. It is a shame for me that humanitarian intervention is always seen. As a military, people think about that, while there are a lot of other things that happen before you get there. I think it's also worth noting that recently there has been a very successful, quote-unquote, military intervention, and that was the Russian intervention in Syria, etc. They have certainly changed the situation on the ground, whether it is a step towards a solution is another question and I would also like to point out, and this is right at the limit of what I can say as a humanitarian leader, the thousand.
American troops in northeastern Syria, their presence is a stabilizing factor right now, so I am arguing about the status quo, I am not arguing about foreign affairs, but I am just telling you that they are playing a stabilizing role, etc. To the extent that I worry about what is going to happen to our staff and our customers, I cannot afford more instability and holding the ring may not be heroic but it may be important. It may not be a solution, but it is important and obviously. that everyone who knows anything about Afghanistan was worried about what's going to happen next and I'm sure that the people who made the decision to worry about what's going to happen next because they're serious people, yeah, I have to say that You know, as you were talking I was thinking there must be an interesting dialogue in your head between the foreign secretary and the head of a humanitarian organisation.
Tell the people. I was just saying there must be an interesting guy. internal dialogue in a certain way between the foreign secretary and the irc president and one of us is freezing not sure who it is there we are fine I have rejoined on my ipad I have no idea what happened, but what? can you hear me? Yes, we can hear you and see you. I'm sorry. You can see I'm in my wife's studio on the Upper West Side of New York. I heard you ask about the foreign secretary dialogue and the humanitarian leaders dialogue and just to answer briefly, one of theattractions of this job was precisely that after having looked from one end of the telescope as foreign minister, now I am looking from the other end of the telescope as the leader of the NGO, as a prominence, has more power but more obstacles to do something.
As the leader of the NGO, you have less power but fewer obstacles to getting things done, so it's kind of an interesting balance of which work is more rewarding, oh, there's represent I never want to say anything more than what Madeleine Albright used to say , which is that, uh, representing, there is no greater privilege than representing the country, I mean, that's an unfair question in a way, I mean, it doesn't offend me, you know. I know what I'm talking about, but I think I'm very, very lucky to have the job that I have right now, yeah, let's go for another five minutes, because I always try to give people a five-minute break beforehand.
If they have classes at ten, a question from Anya Salama, how badly has the apparatus in the United States for accepting refugees been dismantled? Let me expand on that a little bit and ask that we obviously went through an administration that didn't have a particularly deep interest, to put it mildly, in engaging with the refugee issue, and you know it was considerably more introspective, could you talk generally about the impact that that has had on the American institutional capacity, but also on the American capacity to lead, yes, in terms of the institutional capacity that we have, we had to close three offices, but we have maintained 25 offices.
We expand our work with victims of human trafficking, consistent with our mission. Also some services to asylum seekers. the southern border is consistent with the mission and the scale of the reduction was monumental, remember, I mean, Ronald Reagan, I think he admitted 180,000 refugees, the historical average of 90,000 in the last year of President Trump, fifteen thousand or twelve thousand actually, um, so and Some of our sister resettlement agencies suffered bigger hits than us, I mean, they were less able to withstand the blows, so I think there has been a serious degradation of the infrastructure, but the administration buyer, after a minor setback, has now committed.
The goal of 62,000 this year will not be met, but it is stretching the system now that we are putting on the rocket boosters. Going back to American leadership, I think it needs to be re-earned and, frankly, we have found it quite difficult in the past. recent times. Yes, as I have been telling people in Europe, look, you need a proper refugee. resettlement plan because there isn't one of substantial size because look, the American government you know the administration is coming back, it's a difficult road now because people don't know how long it is to be honest, yeah, that's the thing.
I think it's very sad that something that is bipartisan, like I say, Ronald Reagan is a big supporter of the refugee program. I'm sure there are many Republicans you know, interestingly enough, this may encourage you because of your old party. president, President Trump, lowered the overall numbers and said I'm going to require every state and every city that wants to take in refugees to sign an affidavit saying okay, that was true, that it was actually an invitation to block before they did. to the court, 43 states said yes, including a significant number of red states, and that's good, we are a country of immigrants, yes, a question asked by Karen Brown, which I was actually going to ask at the end, but it was we will do now.
With the military from the US and other NATO countries leaving Afghanistan, what impact do you expect this to have on the refugee situation there? I would ask you to expand on that because you have a pretty enviable track record of being able to look a little further than other people at the consequences of major geopolitical events that then create these kinds of situations, could you talk about that? Yes, we have 1100 employees in Afghanistan in nine provinces, um, doing incredible work, one thousand one hundred 1094 of I think they are Afghan men and women, 44 women on our staff in Afghanistan, who are dedicated to the protection of women and girls, education, economic livelihood programs, they are really impressive and we are really concerned, I mean, there was an absolutely unspeakable bombardment over the weekend, obviously, which is everyone's. seen at school um and we heard from different parts of the country preparing for violence uh we know that violence is increasing and we know that there is enormous pressure on the state machine and enormous pressure on the capacity of the state um so we are Obviously we are very, very concerned, I'm not trying to say that in a diplomatic way, uh, but we are afraid for our staff and we are afraid for our customers now that the refugee situation, I mean, obviously there are, I think.
There are still 750,000 refugees from Afghanistan in Iran and the west and there are still two and a half million Afghans in Pakistan, some of whom have never lived in Afghanistan and obviously the fear I'm not the first person to float this is that we get new flows of refugees out of the country and the country loses more talent, more people and if you or I lived in Afghanistan we would ask ourselves and our families difficult questions, I know, so we are very committed to our work. We have been working there for over 40 years and have an amazing team.
We are trying to maintain it. The administration has said it wants to maintain its humanitarian work. And I think one of the flaws of the last 20 years has been that I think I'm postulating by saying that 84 of the US aid to Afghanistan was for security and only 16 was for development. In the opposite direction, I was on something called the Afghan study group that the US Institute of Peace convened and I remember that statistic from there, so it seems a little linked, they were very concerned, but we are very concerned and, you know . Afghanistan has proven to be dangerous to its own people and to outsiders and I fear it will be a very turbulent time ahead, yes well I fear we have reached the end of our time.
It was truly an extraordinary conversation, thank you. for giving us the time, thank you, thank you for the consideration and you know the mastery of the details and I also thank you for the example that you have set, you know, someone who has been foreign secretary for three or four years could go out into the world of business and make a fortune and instead you've spent the last eight or more years making seven and a half seven and a half seven, well, okay, that's a wonderful example to tease, especially our students. and I want to thank you for that, thank you for your time and I hope to see you in person, take care of yourself, thank you very much, take care of yourself.
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