Friday

5th Mar 2021

Interview

David Miliband: EU should take over 500,000 refugees

David Miliband, Britain's former foreign minister turned humanitarian charity chief, is pressing the EU to accept some 540,000 resettled refugees over five years.

In an interview with EUobserver on Monday (20 November), Miliband said Europe can either accept unregulated irregular migration or make a better effort of creating legal pathways.

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"The point is that the vast bulk of refugees are in poor countries, not in European countries," he said, noting that most are stranded in places like Ethiopia, Kenya, Jordan Lebanon, Pakistan and Uganda.

But his proposed figure far outstrips the recent 50,000 places floated by the European Commission over a two-year period.

The EU parliament suggested 250,000 refugees. Talks are also under way among the EU institutions to create a more permanent resettlement plan.

But given the political toxicity surrounding migration among some EU states, a full commitment on behalf of national governments remains far from guaranteed. Such issues have already undermined German government coalition efforts and seen a swing towards right-wing politics.

War in Iraq and Donald Trump

Miliband heads the International Rescue Committee (IRC), an international humanitarian organisation based in New York. It is a post he took up in 2013 after leaving behind British politics.

As a minister in Tony Blair's education department, he voted in 2003 to support the government's decision to go to war in Iraq.

The same war has in part been blamed for the rise of the Islamic State, whose genesis spurred terrorists attacks in capitals like Brussels, Berlin, London, and Paris.

He has since described the pro-war stand in Iraq as his "biggest mistake in government" given the lack of evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

Asked if the West has played a part in creating the biggest exodus of refugees since the Second World War, Miliband laid the blame on fragile states and on the division in what he calls the international system.

"It is important that western nations take their own responsibilities seriously," he said.

He said a crisis of diplomacy allows wars to continue, noting the US administration under Donald Trump is reducing international relations into a zero-sum game.

"It is impossible to overstate the significance of the shift that the Trump administration represents," he said.

The end result is that some 65 million people have been forcibly displaced.

But he also describes the Trump-imposed shift as an opportunity for Europe to demonstrate to the world the values it represents in terms of providing refugees a source of hope.

"Either it [Europe] stands up for its values and its place in the multilateral system or it sees the system whither around her," he said.

Book and Brexit

Miliband was speaking ahead of a launch in Brussels of his 160-page book entitled Rescue.

The book provides an overview of the current refugee crisis and describes his experiences meeting people at the Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan, Dadaab in eastern Kenya, and elsewhere.

Among the plans, he writes, is to distribute 25 percent of the IRC's international assistance in cash by 2020. It suggests giving refugees more help in terms of cash assistance in an effort to empower them.

He also takes a stab at globalisation, which he says is "too unequal, too unstable, and too insecure for its own good."

Asked to how to make it more equal and stable, he says the solutions are found in more employment and education. That includes allowing refugees to work in the countries they are in.

The book also rings on a personal note and describes how his father fled Nazi persecution from his home in Brussels in 1940 to find refuge in the UK.

"My dad was born on the rue de Merode, rue Merode doesn't exist in the way that it used to, 70 or 80 years ago but of course I always feel like a European when I'm here," he told EUobserver.

But being European, he notes, also has its complications given Brexit.

With the United Kingdom set to leave the European Union, Miliband doubts Britain's exit will actually 'end' in March 2019.

"It is going to be long process, not only because of the transition but also because of the disentangling and adjustments to this enormous economic shock," he said.

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