Global refugee crisis is here to stay, says humanitarian chief David Miliband

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The refugee crisis is “here to stay” and the world needs to find new ways to deal with it, David Miliband, former British foreign minister and head of humanitarian relief group the International Rescue Committee (IRC), said on Tuesday.

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He said the nature of global crises and prolonged instability in many regions meant that refugees often remained in host countries for many years.

“The old model of help for refugees, which is that you’ve got short term social service and that came from the international community and when the war was over you went home, that’s broken down because the average refugee is out of their own country for 17 years,” Miliband said at an event in London.

More than 1 million refugees and migrants came to the European Union in 2015, half of them Syrians fleeing civil war.

Miliband criticized the response of European governments, which he said started playing catch-up when more than half a million refugees arrived in Germany by the middle of last year.

“It’s ten times harder or a hundred times harder to solve a problem if you start late,” Miliband said.

He said the world needed to do more to resettle refugees and offer greater help to Syria’s neighbors which are hosting more than 4 million people who have fled Syria.

“At the moment in countries like Jordan and Lebanon the World Bank isn’t allowed to be active because they’re classified as middle income countries,” Miliband said.

He said the EU’s fund for refugees in Turkey should be extended to Jordan and Lebanon and refugees should be allowed to work in the countries hosting them. This would help to stem the flow of refugees to Europe, he said.

“The biggest driver for them to become refugees into Europe is that they’re getting no support in the neighboring states that they fled to,” Miliband said at the launch of public relations firm Edelman’s annual “Trust Barometer” survey.

“The new bargain has got to be that people are allowed to work in the countries that they move to as refugees.”

The former foreign minister, who left British politics in 2013, said that it was a myth that by withdrawing from the European Union, Britain would isolate itself from the problems associated with growing numbers of refugees.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a referendum on EU membership which could take place this year.

“The UK leaving the European Union does not change geography, it doesn’t shift reality, it doesn’t change the mindset of the people who are fleeing from Syria or from Afghanistan or from elsewhere,” Miliband said.

“In fact ... ‘Brexit’ would leave Britain more exposed not less exposed because it would ... make cooperation more difficult and would actually ... move the customs post from Calais to Dover.”