Grenfell Tower survivors mourn…Harry and Meghan to marry next May…Refugees abused by border forces in the Balkans…England’s cricketers collapse against fierce Australian bowling…hundreds of Rohingya girls and women raped and abused in Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing…who will win the final of ‘Strictly’?
Many people feel increasingly uneasy about today’s media mix of trivia and terror. Yes, the headlines about North Korea, U.S policy or the melting ice caps are alarming. But almost every day, we also hear about some of the 65 million people fleeing civil war, climate disaster and famine.
In Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time (TED Books, Simon & Schuster) David Miliband presents the refugee crisis in a level-headed yet passionately argued book. ‘Rescue’ aims to instil “a sense of urgency and a sense of agency – the urge to do something and the tools to do so.” He also prompts each one of us to ask: what is my duty and responsibility towards the innocent victims of war?”
David Miliband’s parents were themselves Jewish refugees who lost family members to the Nazi regime in their native Brussels and in Poland. In England, they were able to start again and do well. But David fully understood how “our lives depend on the decisions of strangers.”
A rising star in Tony Blair’s Cabinet team, David was appointed Foreign Secretary in 2007 by Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown. After Labour lost the General Election in 2010, he also lost the battle for Labour leadership to his brother Ed. Disenchanted with politics, he accepted the post of CEO with the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The IRC is based in New York, with 27,000 staff and volunteers working in thirty war-torn countries.
David defines today’s refugee crisis in a few brief points:
- record numbers of people are fleeing violence, the majority aged under 18
- urban refugees, not those in camps, are the majority, receiving no food aid or shelter
- refugees are displaced for longer than ever before
- they are concentrated in a small number of countries outside the wealthy parts of the world
- refugees make up a growing proportion of the world’s poorest people
- increasingly, climate change has become part of the refugee equation.
In ‘Rescue’, David advocates a dramatic redesign in how governments and NGOs deliver humanitarian aid. Cash aid to some groups, productive work in their host countries, proper education for their children, protection from violence for women and children. These are some of the priorities for aid in a setting of long-term displacement. He highlights the importance of welcoming, not just tolerating, vetted refugees to a host country. The conclusion suggests several creative and cost-effective ways to help refugees find their feet. It ends with a powerful call to action to individuals and policymakers.
According to David Miliband, one thing is certain: “if we do not address [the refugees’] situation, it will mean not only misery for them but shame and trouble for us.” Our response to this growing crisis is “a test of our character, not just our policies. Pass the test, and we rescue ourselves and our values as well as refugees and their lives.”
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