In its work providing relief for refugees around the world, the International Rescue Committee has two daunting crises on its hands at the moment: the European migrant crisis and the situation in Syria.
IRC President and CEO David Miliband says in the aftermath of the latest tragedy involving migrants at sea, “European attention has been dragged back to what is a problem that hasn’t just occurred in the last three weeks. Obviously (those events) — 700, 800, a thousand people dying in the space of two days — refocused attention.”
He says the options in Northern Africa are limited, causing many people to move to Europe for a better life. Miliband believes that Europeans are not standing together on the issue — “Italians and Greeks are being expected to handle it on their own more or less, rather than as a united European response,” he says.
When he speaks to high level officials about getting Europe to join forces on the migrant issue, he says he often gets three responses: That they regret the end of the Mare Nostrum program last November, led by the Italian Navy, which saved thousands of migrant lives at sea. That it’s very tough to tackle this issue at the source. And that the EU’s bandwidth is stretched as it is dealing with the euro crisis and the Ukraine confrontation with Russia.
As for hands on work, the IRC currently has over 2,000 workers in Syria and in neighboring countries focusing on health, education, and on some protection for women and girls. It’s releasing a new website for refugees to find out about, and rate, resources to ease the transition to life a new country. “The refugees from Syria are educated people; they are tech-savvy people. Until now, there’s been no proper tech platform for them to find out what services are available to them. The IRC and US government are creating, for the first time, a kind of “Yelp for refugees” in Lebanon,” says Miliband.
The platform is called Service Info and will allow refugees to add comments on services, like, “This supermarket treated me well. This hospital treated me well.” That kind of feedback will improve the quality of services, as well as broadcast the services that are available, he says.
Currently Service Info is being piloted in Lebanon, a country of 5 million people — with 1.5 million of those who are refugees. It’s the equivalent of Germany’s population moving to America.
Miliband left politics to take the position as CEO at IRC. Of this shift, he says, “I feel I’m helping people whose lives are affected by breakdown of politics, because what is a civil war other than the failure of politics? Now I’m out of politics. I’m at the other end of the telescope. What I always say to people is that the humanitarian sector can stanch the dying, but it takes politics to stop the killing and you need both.”