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19 January 2016

The Europe Refugee Crisis: Compassion, Competence, and Trust
Edelman Trust Barometer 2016

Trust

On Tuesday 19th January Edelman was joined by David Miliband, CEO & President, International Rescue Committee, at the launch of the Edelman Trust Barometer 2016. Miliband delivered the annual Trust lecture alongside Richard Edelman, CEO & President, Edelman, and Ed Williams, CEO, Edelman UK, who presented the Trust Barometer global and UK findings respectively.

The Europe Refugee Crisis: Compassion, Competence, and Trust

By David Miliband, CEO and President, International Rescue Committee

Last year the number of people displaced by conflict and crisis hit a new world record: 60 million. 20 million people crossed borders, and 40 million were displaced within their own country. Syria has become the poster child of displacement: Nearly seven million have fled their homes to elsewhere inside Syria, and four million people have been forced to leave Syria altogether. And Europe has become the poster child of the consequences of displacement, with over one million refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea and elsewhere arriving in their rickety boats via the Mediterranean last year.

The causes are easy to state but hard to tackle: sectarian and political implosion in the Islamic world, weak states unable to meet needs or contain difference within peaceful boundaries, and a weak and divided international system. Old wars have new ferocity and new civil wars are gaining momentum. That puts NGOs in the front line, especially when appeals for funds led by the UN are only 40 or 50 per cent funded.

The International Rescue Committee is unusual if not unique in being an international humanitarian aid organization, working in war zones, fragile states and refugee transit routes to offer health, education and protection for people, and being a refugee resettlement agency in the US, where we help 10 000 people a year start a new life. I think our founder Albert Einstein would be astonished by and proud of our 20 000 mainly local staff.

The flows of people now grabbing headlines around the world present some of the most difficult policy problems for political leaders. If you are the King of Jordan, your third largest city is a refugee camp of Syrians. If you are the President of Nigeria, two million of your citizens have been displaced by Boko Haram. And if you are Angela Merkel, you have one million refugee claims to deal with.

The starting point has to be compassion for the victims. I keep saying to US audiences: Syrian refugees are victims of terror not terrorists. These are people who have lost everything and are so desperate they put themselves in the hands of people smugglers to gain a new start in life. That probably explains why so many go on to become patriotic and productive citizens in the countries that give them a chance.

But without competence in turning compassion into action you risk the loss of trust. That is one of the worrying things in Europe today. The EU plan has some good elements: focal points for registration, spreading of the load, support for Turkey in handling the flow. But implementation has not been as smooth or as effective as possible. And so trust is endangered.

It is a version of the challenge we face every day in our 200-plus field offices around the world. Local people are pleased to see an organization that wants to help. But deeds need quickly to match words if trust is not to be lost. Promises need to be kept; listening needs to be at a premium; local benefit needs to be evident. When our beneficiaries protest to local authorities and armed groups who interfere with our work, I know we have built trust.

The challenge of 2016 is to match compassion with competence in dealing with the mass displacement of desperate people.

For political leaders across Europe there are at least five immediate priorities: To improve conditions awaiting refugees landing on Lesvos; To uphold commitments to relocate vulnerable refugees sheltering in Greece and Italy; To extend support for Turkey to include Jordan and Lebanon because these countries are struggling; To work with countries outside Europe, like Canada and the US (and the Gulf) to resettle their share of refugees from Syria and the region; Most importantly, to get the war in Syria itself under control.

But these challenges are mirrored elsewhere across the world, whether for Tanzanian leaders and communities facing an influx of refugees from Burundi, or Myanmar’s new leadership dealing with hundreds of thousands displaced by last year’s flooding.

Business can help. Your employees can mentor new arrivals. Your expertise and experience in running large and complex systems can support us. Your professional expertise can be invaluable. And of course you can support with donations. The key is results – call them corporate social results.

David Miliband is the President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee. He oversees the agency’s relief and development operations in over 30 countries, its refugee resettlement and assistance programs throughout the United States and the IRC’s advocacy efforts in Washington and other capitals on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable people. He delivered the Trust lecture at the annual launch of the Edelman Trust Barometer on Tuesday 19th January 2016 – to view a video of the lecture please click here, and for a transcript click here.

The International Rescue Committee is an Edelman client. To learn more and/or donate to the International Rescue Committee, click here.

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