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The Global Refugee Crisis: A Conversation with David Miliband, President and CEO, International Rescue Committee

May 10, 2021

Rt. Hon. David Miliband
, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC)
Eliot A. Cohen, Dean, Johns Hopkins SAIS

On the 10th of May 2021, SAIS hosted David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), for a virtual conversation on the global refugee crisis. Miliband began by recalling “how he met Eliot Cohen on a joint-trip to Afghanistan.” He then noted his background in U.K. politics, including his time as a Labour Party member, from where he “overtook the Party’s policy planning on Social Justice, until Tony Blair tapped him to head all of the U.K.’s domestic policy.” From there on he worked for Gordon Brown as the U.K.’s Foreign Secretary, after which he went on work for the IRC, “an organization founded by Einstein to save European Jews.” For Miliband, working with refugees was personally relevant to him, as his “parents had been refugees from Belgium and Poland.” Regarding a question on the Labour Party’s problems, he noted that “Labour has lost legitimacy to Scottish Nationalism as well as a falling out of alignment between the working class and center-left parties.” There he expanded upon how “Liberal Democracy was facing a crisis and being damaged from populism, nationalism, and the hard-left.” He foresaw that “even the U.S. political system was barely hanging on.” 

As for the IRC, he noted how it was an organization with 14,000 employees and 18,000 volunteers, that often work in places where NGO’s and IGO’s are already present. “To prevent overlap we try and coordinate with each other,” he stated. For Miliband one of the major problems today was that “diplomacy has been geared to solving problems between states not within them.” And since most conflict was “intra-state, this was exacerbating the situation.” Miliband then noted the “problems of internally displaced peoples (IDPs) who make up most of the world’s refugees.” These people migrate to urban areas within the country, and “are not in refugee camps.” Miliband then noted how “conflict today is multi-generational, increasingly exacerbated by Climate Change, not focusing enough on solving the issues of women and girls, and that countries lack accountability.” He felt that the IRC ends up “dealing with the symptoms instead of the causes.”