Reuters Editor at Large Sir Harold (Harry) Evans moderated a Reuters Newsmaker conversation with David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, about the responsibility wealthy countries have to support the millions of migrants and refugees fleeing conflict and disaster.
An audience that included our CEO Jim Smith and other employees, representatives from a number of humanitarian organizations and external media gathered at our Times Square office to get some historical context behind the current headlines on refugees from Africa, Asia, Central America and the Middle East – and Miliband’s thoughts on what can and should be done to help.
The migrant and refugee crisis at a 21st century scale
After an introduction by our Chief People Officer Peter Warwick, Sir Harry asked Miliband about the scale of the current problem.
“As measured by the number of wars between states, this is a very peaceful period of human history. But at the same time it’s a period when more people are fleeing conflict and disaster than at any time since 1945.”
According to Miliband, 52 million people fled their homes last year. Two thirds of those fled their homes but stayed in their own country, which means they are not technically refugees but “internally displaced people.” About 16 million crossed a border into another country and became refugees.
The surge of refugees and migrants is something that has been well documented by Reuters in recent months – from those fleeing Rohingya’s slave trade to Afghan and Syrian refugees to the recent boat disasters off of Europe’s shores. (Check out this slideshow for a small sample of our recent photo coverage.)
Relief and recovery must be addressed
Miliband said the current crisis is not a “blip” but a trend, meaning it’s not going to reverse anytime soon. When Sir Harry asked what his organization does, Miliband replied, “We try to help people survive, we try to help them recover from conflict and we try to help them gain some control of their lives. What does that mean? Survival is obviously about water, sanitation, healthcare. Recovery is about economic—livelihoods, but also about education for kids. And gaining some control of their lives is to try to give them some sense of what their future might be. “
Miliband talked about the complicated landscape for today’s refugees and “displaced” people – that most aren’t living in refugee camps – and that more help is needed from the international community. He talked about the number of refugees permitted into various countries and how the U.S. should raise its cap. (For 2015, the cap is 70,000.)
“One of the things that has made America great over the last 200 years is that it has welcomed people. These are people that could be great contributors to American society,” he said.
He cited specific issues facing certain populations, including the fact that there are 315,000 Syrian children in Lebanon not getting an education, not because they’re in war zone, but because “there is a blockage between what the Lebanese government says it wants from the international community in terms of money and what the international community says it wants from the Lebanese government in terms of provision of education.”
Following the back-and-forth conversation with Sir Harry, Miliband took questions from the audience including one on whether the media is doing a good job relaying and explaining all that’s happening. While the plight of refugees tends to get covered primarily when there’s major devastation (“if it bleeds, it leads”) and situations can sometimes be framed too narrowly, he recognized the important role the media plays.
“I think you’ve got to believe that there’s … the mission to explain,” he said. “I think that still is very, very important.”