David Miliband: Whose Responsibility Is It To Solve The Global Refugee Crisis? There are more refugees in the world today than at any other time since World War II. David Miliband says each of us has a moral obligation to help solve this crisis by turning empathy into action.
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David Miliband: Whose Responsibility Is It To Solve The Global Refugee Crisis?

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David Miliband: Whose Responsibility Is It To Solve The Global Refugee Crisis?

David Miliband: Whose Responsibility Is It To Solve The Global Refugee Crisis?

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. And on the show today, The Big Five - ideas about the large-scale global problems we face and how we might be able to solve them, problems like human displacement.

DAVID MILIBAND: The movement of people, not just for economic reasons, but for political reasons - reasons of war, persecution - are going to be some of the most challenging questions in public policy.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Hundreds of thousands of migrants have streamed into Europe.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: This refugee crisis in Europe continues to spiral.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: It's boatload after boatload of migrants arriving.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: A picture of a child washed ashore in Turkey has become...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #5: Where are they coming from? Where are they going?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #6: The worst refugee crisis faced by Europe since World War II, and people keep coming. So far, this year more than...

MILIBAND: I think it's absolutely right to see this in historical perspective.

RAZ: This is David Miliband, the former British foreign secretary, now the head of the International Rescue Committee.

MILIBAND: And I think it's important to understand that one major difference from the Second World War is that people are fleeing today, not wars between states, but wars within states. Today, the great drivers of flight - the war in Syria, the war in Afghanistan, the conflict in Burma, Myanmar - those are wars within states. Those are so-called civil wars. And they are burning for longer in the post-Cold War period, since the end of the Cold War in 1990, than in any period in human history.

And so you've got this extraordinary position where world records are being smashed for the number of people fleeing as refugees and displaced people. But you've also got the extraordinary length - duration of these civil wars that are producing unrivaled, unmatched levels of cruelty.

RAZ: Today, there are 65 million forcibly displaced people in the world. And about a third of them are refugees or people who can't safely return home. And most of them are children fleeing to mostly poor neighboring countries.

MILIBAND: The countries like Jordan or Lebanon, countries like Kenya or Ethiopia, countries like Bangladesh, where the so-called Rohingya Muslims have just fled from Myanmar. The U.S., over 20 percent of global income, is responsible for holding about 1 percent of the world's refugees. Europe - 6 percent. So the strains and stresses are magnified in countries that are struggling with relatively low-income and relatively low levels of development of their own.

RAZ: So why has this crisis reached this point today? I mean, you know, we're more interconnected. We have access to more information around the world. We understand what it means to be a refugee better than ever before. And yet, we've reached this point, globally, that is unprecedented since the Second World War. What - why?

MILIBAND: I think there are three main reasons for - to understand the depth and breadth of the refugee crisis today. The first is the weakness and division of the global political system, reflecting a retreat from diplomacy - a retreat from the global stage by the West, perhaps, humbled by the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, enfeebled by the financial crisis.

Secondly, a growing number of fragile states, partly reflecting the interconnectedness of the modern world - fragile states that are unable to develop political systems that can contain religious, ethnic, political difference within peaceful boundaries. I'm thinking of places like South Sudan, the world's newest nation - very weak political institutions riven by conflict now and a million refugees decamping to Uganda.

And the third reason is one where there's a lot of fear mongering. And it's to do with big changes within parts of the Islamic world. It's striking that if you think about Syria, if you think about Afghanistan, there are major schisms within the Muslim majority - within some Muslim majority countries. They reflect a schism of theology about engagement with the wider world, about differences within Islam. And none of these three factors are short-term. And that's what leads me to describe this crisis as a trend, not a blip.

RAZ: Here's David Miliband on the TED stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

MILIBAND: When Pope Francis went to Lampedusa off the coast of Italy in 2014, he accused all of us and the global population of what he called the globalization of indifference. It's a haunting phrase. It means that our hearts have turned to stone. But I think it's not right. I think people do want to make a difference, but they just don't know whether there are any solutions to this crisis. And what I want to tell you today is that, though the problems are real, the solutions are real, too.

Solution one - these refugees need to get into work in the countries where they're living. And the countries where they're living need massive economic support. In Uganda, in 2014, they did a study - 80 percent of refugees in the capital city Kampala needed no humanitarian aid because they were working. They were supported into work.

Solution No. 2 - education for kids is a lifeline, not a luxury, when you're displaced for so long. Kids can bounce back when they're given the proper social, emotional support alongside literacy and numeracy. I've seen it for myself. But half of the world's refugee children of primary school age get no education at all. And three-quarters of secondary school age get no education at all. That's crazy.

Solution No. 3 - most refugees are in urban areas in cities, not in camps. What would you or I want if we were a refugee in a city? We'd want money to pay rent or buy clothes. That is the future of the humanitarian system or a significant part of it. Give people cash so that you boost the power of refugees, and, actually, you help the local economy.

And there's a fourth solution, too, that's controversial but needs to be talked about. The most vulnerable refugees need to be given a new start and a new life in a new country, including in the West. The numbers are relatively small - hundreds of thousands, not millions. But the symbolism is huge.

RAZ: So do you think we'll actually do any of those things? I mean, we're looking out now, like, 40 or 50 years from now. Will we be able to look back and say, wow, that's a really terrible time back in, you know, in the early part of the 21st century, but we've solved this problem.

MILIBAND: Well, I hope so. But the world has a tendency to invent new problems rather than just solve old ones. And people said never again after the Second World War. They said never again after the Rwanda crisis of the 1990s. And here we go again with the Syria crisis. I think that my own view is that the demands of an interconnected world and the demand, above all, for the global management of global public goods of the security, the health, the responsibility that we hold in common - the climate that we hold in common - the pressure for global action is going to grow. But I think the great challenge is to make sure that the conditions don't simply improve for most of us, leaving a minority, of whom refugees would be a prime example, further and further behind.

RAZ: And, David, we should mention that you yourself are a descendant of refugees, right?

MILIBAND: Yup (ph). That's right. My parents were both refugees. My dad was a refugee from Belgium in 1940. My mom was a refugee to the U.K. from Poland in 1946 - both Jews who'd survived the war. While my dad escaped when the Nazis invaded Belgium, my mom survived the war in Poland. So in a small way, I feel I'm repaying a debt to the people who helped my parents and relatives more generally. But, obviously, the times are different. The religion is often different, but that doesn't mean that the humanity should be different.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

MILIBAND: In 1942, my aunt and my grandmother were living in Brussels under German occupation. They received a summons from the Nazi authorities to go to Brussels railway station. My grandmother immediately thought something was amiss. She pleaded with her relatives not to go to Brussels railway station. Her relatives said to her, if we don't go, if we don't do what we're told, then we're going to be in trouble. You can guess what happened to the relatives who went to Brussels railway station. They were never seen again.

But my grandmother and my aunt - they went to a small village south of Brussels where they'd been on holiday in the decade before. And they presented themselves at the house of the local farmer, a Catholic farmer called Monsieur Maurice (ph). And they asked him to take them in, and he did. And by the end of the war, 17 Jews, I was told, were living in that village. And when I was a teenager, I asked my aunt, can you take me to meet Monsieur Maurice? And she said, yeah, I can. He's still alive. Let's go and see him.

And I suppose, like only a teenager could, when I met him, I said to him, why did you do it? Why did you take that risk? And he looked at me, and he shrugged. And he said, in French, on doit - one must. It was innate in him. It was natural. And my point to you is it should be natural and innate in us, too. Tell yourself, this refugee crisis is manageable, not unsolvable. And each one of us has a personal responsibility to help make it so because this is about the rescue of us and our values as well as the rescue of refugees and their lives. Thank you very much, indeed.

(APPLAUSE)

RAZ: David Miliband - he runs the International Rescue Committee. And he's written a book about these issues. It's called "Rescue." You can see his full talk at ted.com

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