U.N. Reports Record Number Of Refugees Worldwide A U.N. agency says that the number of people displaced by violence last year surpassed 70 million, a new record. NPR's Rachel Martin talks to David Miliband of the International Rescue Committee.
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U.N. Reports Record Number Of Refugees Worldwide

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U.N. Reports Record Number Of Refugees Worldwide

U.N. Reports Record Number Of Refugees Worldwide

U.N. Reports Record Number Of Refugees Worldwide

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A U.N. agency says that the number of people displaced by violence last year surpassed 70 million, a new record. NPR's Rachel Martin talks to David Miliband of the International Rescue Committee.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In a new report, the United Nations says 71 million people had been forced to flee their homes by the end of 2018. This is a record high. And it includes the existing displaced people and many millions of new refugees, asylum-seekers and others fleeing violence and persecution. To talk more about this and what the U.S. response might be, we're joined by David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee. Thank you so much for being with us this morning.

DAVID MILIBAND: Thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: In a tragic way, this record number is not surprising. We've got millions more people fleeing from Venezuela, Syria, Myanmar. There are all kinds of new major sources of refugees. And these are all crises that show no sign of resolution. Is this number likely to rise?

MILIBAND: Well, you're right to say that it's not surprising given the scale of conflict around the world. I think there's a double emergency. The first part is that there's a crisis of diplomacy. And so wars like that in Syria, the expulsion of people from Myanmar into Bangladesh, means that the refugee flow that we've seen over the last 10 years continues. The second part of the emergency is that more and more countries, especially the richer countries, which shield only a small proportion of the world's refugees, are turning their back on them.

The U.S. has traditionally been the leader in global resettlement of the most vulnerable refugees. But, as you know, the Trump administration has cut down to just over 20,000 the number of refugees coming to the U.S. So the direct answer to your question is, yes, the number of refugees is likely to continue to rise. What's up for grabs is whether or not the world turns its back not just on the refugees but on the countries, mainly poor and lower-income countries, that are hosting them.

MARTIN: You are calling on the United States to accept 95,000 asylum-seekers. You just recognized the fact that this is not an administration that has been open to accepting large numbers of refugees. So is this a fool's errand?

MILIBAND: Well, I hope not. I mean, we're appealing to an extraordinary American history. Hundreds of thousands of people have been resettled by the International Rescue Committee across the United States over the last 40 or 50 years, and they've become productive and patriotic citizens who contribute in every walk of life. The administration has done its own review of security vetting and pronounced itself now happy with the security vetting. And I would also point out that this has traditionally been a bipartisan commitment.

And we're talking here about refugee resettlement. That's the planned and organized transfer of the most vulnerable refugees - widows who've lost husbands, children who've lost families - to start a new life. Some of these people we're talking about have also served and they've literally put their lives on the line for the United States. Even they are having their back turned on them. And so I would say that this is an appeal based on reason, not just on heart.

MARTIN: Let me ask. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last fall that the U.S. was not turning its back on refugees but instead he and the rest of the administration were going to work on placing them in third-party countries, in countries that are closer to their home nations, that those are places that could better deal with those particular displaced people. Have you seen evidence that that's happening?

MILIBAND: Well, we know that the vast bulk of the world's refugees do stop in the next-door country. I mentioned the figure of 22,000 refugees being welcomed to America. Turkey has 3.5 million Syrian refugees. Lebanon has 1.5 million Syrian refugees. And obviously, what they need is international support because they're delivering the support to the refugees. Unfortunately, the administration is also proposing to cut by 30% international aid levels.

So I think it's perfectly reasonable for the administration to say, we need to not just welcome refugees to America, we've also got to give them support where they are. But then that means a greater aid package for countries that are bearing a larger share of the responsibility, rather than a smaller aid package.

MARTIN: Is there anywhere in the world where people who have been displaced from their homes are able to return?

MILIBAND: We know that many refugees went back to the former Yugoslavia. In the 1990s, there was a mass exodus from Yugoslavia. People have gone back there. But the overall evidence is that 80% of the world's refugees leave their country for at least five years, 20% for at least 20 years. And I think we are dealing with both the crises of diplomacy and the crises of humanitarian aid, and both need to be addressed. Our belief is that America has a proud tradition on which to stand in doing both those tasks.

MARTIN: David Miliband is president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee.

Thank you so much for your time.

MILIBAND: Thank you so much, Rachel.

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