It the era of fake news, alt-right trolls, widespread anti-migrant sentiment and rampant populism, dispelling myths over refugees is key to regaining that momentum which, two years after a picture of dead 3-year-old washed up on a beach caused worldwide indignation, seems forever lost.
“The sense of public outcry and public shame has gone but the crisis has not. In fact, there are more refugees now than when Alan Kurdi died two summers ago,” Miliband tells Mashable. “We have to continue to speak the truth about the situation of these people and we have to take on the myths about their needs and potential contribution to the societies they’re arriving.”
Miliband is president and CEO at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a non-governmental organisation working in over 40 countries to offer humanitarian aid and relief to displaced people.
On Tuesday, the IRC announced a two-year partnership with Citi Foundation to financially support 1,000 young refugees across three cities that are also hotspots of the growing refugee crisis: Athens in Greece, Amman in Jordan and Yola in northeast Nigeria.
Citi’s $2 million grant will help refugees aged 16 to 24 start their own business with training and start-up grants.
“It goes to the heart of the modern refugee dilemma,” Miliband says. “In too many places the humanitarian aid system doesn’t really help them get into work. They’re not able to earn a living, if they’re not earning a living then there’s growing resentment of the local population that they’re not pulling their weight.”
That resentment also feeds off myths and false perceptions about refugees, perpetrated by the far-right and populist parties in Western countries. Here they are according to Miliband:
“Myth that countries like the UK are bearing an unfair share of the burden — No, the top ten refugee hosting countries account for 2.5% of global income, not like the UK which is the sixth largest economy in the world.
“Myth that most refugees are in refugee camps — No, most refugees are in urban areas.
“Myth that refugees are able to return home in the end — No, less than 1% of refugees went home last year.
“Myth that lots of money is spent on humanitarian aid systems that don’t work in the end — that’s two myths: there’s a 40-50% underfunding of humanitarian crisis. That money actually goes a long way to help people not only survive, but to get some kind of dignity in their lives.”
Miliband is particularly critical of an “assimilation test” that the Trump administration wants to impose for refugees arriving in the country as a major policy change in the U.S., according to a report to Congress.
“We make very clear that it is right to say that refugees should be vetted before they arrive, and it should be done quickly. It doesn’t need to take 18 to 24 months which is the US average — and of course they need to abide by the laws of the country in which they resettle,” Miliband says.
“But the idea that there should be some kind of prejudicial test or asymmetrical test for Muslims and Christians — that doesn’t make any sense at all.”
He also addresses reports that Trump is planning to cap annual refugee admissions to the U.S. to just 45,000 in 2018 — while Obama set it to 110,000 in his final year in office:
In the US, the Trump administration is slashing a successful program for resettling refugees precisely at the wrong time to be doing this. It’s a slap in the face of the refugees and terrible reversal of a longtime american commitment.