David Miliband

Hari Sreenivasan interviews IRC President David Miliband, who just returned from Saudi Arabia and shares his eyewitness report.

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David Miliband Thanks for joining us.

Thanks for having me.

You were just in Yemen impressions.

It's the world's worst humanitarian crisis according to the statistics.

And it's heartbreaking when you see it with your own eyes.

I mean this is a country which was always poor. It's got real stress from climate change.

But three and a half years of war 18000 bombing raids have left a country where 80 percent of the population depend on humanitarian aid.

Well half the population have no access to clean drinking water.

Three million kids are out of school.

And where the world saw the the largest ever cholera epidemic.

Last year a million people affected.

And I got this terrible sense that things are more likely to get worse than better because the fighting looks like it's going to intensify in this critical port city of hayday or I got within 50 kilometers of it and that is the port.

It's in the north west of the country 70 to 80 percent of all humanitarian supplies and commercial supplies go through there and that is the center of the fighting at the moment between the Saudi led coalition trying to reestablish control of the Hadi government and the Houthi rebels who took power in 2015 and there's been a challenge getting humanitarian aid. You know there's a hope that there's a choke there and we have good stuck in port. We have that theU.N.

calculates a fraction.

Of the food of the medicines that need to get through are getting through despite the fact that the port of her dangerous to load and Sanaa Airport which is key for commercial operations is closed.

And this war is a stalemate frankly because neither side is advancing its position.

The only people thriving in the chaos are extremist groups like al-Qaeda or ISIS and the victims are the poor civilians of Yemen seven and a half thousand of them directly killed in the fighting.

You reported last month of this appalling bombing or missile attack on the coach of 40 plus kids.

And then you've got the wider ramifications for a society that is frankly on the edge of meltdown.

How can it be a stalemate.

It seems like on the one side the Saudi side which theU.S. supports is lopsidedly better armed.

It's lopsidedly strong it's got total monopoly of air power.

But as in any conflict asymmetric conflict the the rebel group who thiis who took power are dug in dug into the cities that dug into Sana'a that dug into Hodeida and you can't bomb your way to victory against an occupying force on the ground.

And the Saudi led coalition for obvious reasons don't want to fight street by street through Hodeida the port in the city and the hoof know that and the terrible thing is that the pain is being felt by the civilians as a UN envoy.

They're extremely experienced British diplomat Martin Griffiths.

He needs a ceasefire that allows humanitarian aid to go through that allows the commercial traffic to be re-established and that gives him space.

To try to broker an enduring peace.

The Yemenis know.


The world is watching do they feel like the world does not want that they want the world to wake up but they do know that there's American bombs dropping on them as we drove from Sana to her data. The checkpoints are man sometimes by child soldiers.

But some Hezbollah one of the kids chanting as we went through aU.N.

Land Cruiser Death to America.

Because they say America is bringing death to us.

And that is a gives light the idea that what starts in Yemen stays in Yemen.

This is how Yemen becomes a center of radicalization that can go further.

And this war is making no progress. That's not coming on this program to say to you the costs of war are too high because of the humanitarian cause I'm telling you the costs are too high in humanitarian terms the world's largest humanitarian crisis and in geopolitical terms because this is not a war that anyone is winning.

It's a win or lose no win war.

And it's going to take bold leadership to say we need a cease fire.

We need to create the space for a political settlement.

What is the responsibility of theU.S.

in getting to that settlement.

I think it's high.

I mean theU.S. is a permanent member of theU.S.

House as the most powerful member of theU.N. Security Council.

It's the leading backer of the Saudi led coalition the about.

This isn't just about the Trump administration either.

It's important people understand.

In 2015 theU.N.

passed a resolution which frankly was a carte blanche for war not a roadmap to peace.

It was an unbalanced resolution and it came at a time when the Obama administration wanted to reassure the Saudis that they had their back when they were doing the Iran nuclear deal it was a payoff for the Iran nuclear deal in some ways.

You need start again because it's not the basis for the kind of political settlement that a complex society like Yemen needs.

There are some that you've got Syria you've got the Rohingya you've got people migrating out of Venezuela.


I mean there are migrations happening all over the world refugees being created by different causes but it seems the world is on the move in certain way are not that different cause I mean the causes conflict.

I mean the biggest driver of extreme poverty today is conflict and some of that seen in the internal displacement some of it in refugee flows the world is on the move for economic reasons which is a different to do with immigration but it's on the move because of a failure of peacemaking you've got fragile states that can't contain the ethnic and political or religious differences that exist within them Myanmar would be a good example of that that's where the Rohingya 700000 fled across the border into Bangladesh.

You've got to melt inside the Islamic in some significant parts of the Islamic world Afghanistan Syria big flows of refugees and you've got a weak and divided international political system in which theU.S.

I'm sorry to say is in retreat.

The Western powers are in retreat.

The powers that have traditionally at least in word upheld human rights alongside state's rights as the foundation of the international system.

Those powers are in retreat and into the vacuum.

You've got all sorts of actors moving Russia moves in to the Syria theater Al-Qaeda and ISIS move in.

In parts of Yemen that I was talking about earlier and this retreat from global engagement under the excuse quote unquote all politics is local is dangerous in a world that's more connected than ever before.

Because what starts in Syria doesn't stop in Syria what starts starts in Yemen doesn't stop in Yemen.

You know part of the Trump administration's rationale is listen let the rest of the world start picking up some of the slack.

We've done more than our fair share.

Maybe we need to focus on our own problems at home.

There's nothing to stop you fixing the bridges and airports of New York because you're also doing active diplomacy around the world walking and chewing gum at the same time is meant to be started here.

And look the truth is European countries together now spend more on humanitarian aid than America.

That's a big change and the danger is that what Richard Haass the president of the Council on Foreign Relations here calls the abdication is foreign policy.

The retreat from global leadership the retreat from a rules based international order.

The great danger is that far from serving America's.

Interests that retreat actually compromises.

Those interests that it makes us more at risk to makes it more vulnerable and it also exposes your allies.

I put it this way you can't have the blessings of globalization.

Unless you're willing to bear the responsibilities the burdens of globalization.

And so what I would like to see President Trump and his administration recognizing the fine to put America first.

But America first is not served by American retreat.

There seems to be an entire refugee movement that's happening not just in theU.S.

but across Europe as well.

Much more talk of walls much more talk of borders than bridges.

That's a good point.

And there's a lesson in the countries that are actually hosting refugees. I mean where are the most refugees 1 percent in the world's refugees in America 6 or 8 percent in Europe.

86 percent of the world's refugees are in developing countries.

So Bangladesh when those 700000 Rohingya were driven out of Myanmar Bangladesh didn't say we'll build a wall.

They said well we're going to look after these people.

Kenya when a million people came from South Sudan and Sudan over the last year and a half didn't build a wall they said it could have been us.

We'll look after these people so you're right to say that in the countries that created the UN Refugee Convention in 1951.


After the Second World War.

There's a retreat from the values.

That led to that long period of peace and prosperity but that doesn't make it right.

And I would say one other thing was going to be careful on this.

It's true that the administration here is reducing drastically the number of refugees who are allowed to come here.

Now last week there was a secretaryship Pompeo said it was what the Captagon to be 30000 is the lowest since the Refugee Act went into effect exactly in 1980 Exactly.

So the historic average was 90000 refugees are arriving to the US I mean a small proportion of the 25 million refugees around the world.

They've slashed it to 30000 in fact this year there's only 21000 refugees being so America retreating from its global responsibility.

But we as well as being an international humanitarian aid agency we resettle refugees who are the small number of refugees who are allowed to come and the American spirit when a refugee arrives next door has to go out and help them it's not actually to be fearful.

And America has a proud tradition of being a home for refugees.

My organization the International Rescue Committee was founded here in New York by Albert Einstein who was a refugee.

He was stuck in America when Hitler came to power in Germany couldn't go back. He was Jewish intellectual doesn't.

And so that proud bipartisan tradition is under threat.

And that doesn't serve America's interests.

You're a child of refugees Israel.

My parents were lucky because they were allowed into the UK.

My dad was allowed into the UK in 1940 my mom in 1946.

So I'm not a refugee myself but I was a child refugees and I think that's because it changed the way you look at this work.

Well I think it I certainly feel that when I hear someone say I fled my country when it was invaded I think of my dad.

When I hear people say I'm in hiding.

I think of my mom.

So I don't want to put myself on a pedestal in any way but it's maybe a different religion that these people have got these days are not Jewish like me they might be Muslim or they might be actually the number of Christians who are being allowed minority Christians who are being allowed in theU.S. is also being slashed so it's not just the Muslim population that's being targeted.

So the religion may be different than mine.

The region of the world may be different but the sense of fellow feeling is strong.

One of the things that you're working on along with the Sesame Workshop is creating an education infrastructure.

You were both ordered 100 million dollar grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

What are you working on.

What are you doing.

We're working to address something really telling a child who is traumatized by war and forced to flee the country suffers what's called toxic stress. That's effectively the damage to the brain that comes from being exposed to traumatic experiences.

And we're working with Sesame Workshop because we've shown between the two of us that we can reverse that toxic stress. If you get to those kids early enough you can help them.

So for children between the ages of 0 and 8 in the Middle East in Jordan in Lebanon in Iraq and actually inside Syria itself we're setting up a program to reverse the effects of that toxic stress to help.

At one point four million children.

In by visiting them in their tents in their homes in their community centers.

Well with the weather yes this is short but with educational material includes the sesame Garance includes a special new version of Sesame Street that will reach my far more than one point four million seven point nine million.

It's a five year program so it's not the short termism that you promise a quick fix but we're promising that evidence based systematic engagement can actually rescue a generation rather than leave them on their own.

As we looked across the world this is a generation of young people when they're in these refugee situations education stops.

Yeah isn't that a scandal that half the world's refugees are kids.

And 2 percent of the world's humanitarian budget it goes on education.

What a stupid thing to do. Not just an immoral thing to do.

Is there a refugee crisis that we are not paying attention to or that's not gathering the headlines in a way all of them are not gathered.

Now you've mentioned the Rohingya which is not you know about Syria.

You mentioned Yemen I would mention a couple of places.

There are more poor people extremely poor people in Nigeria than in India today.

That's a transformation in the situation in the world.

The world has set these Sustainable Development Goals to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030.

The places where it's not being eradicated are the places affected by violence and by conflict in northeast Nigeria on the border with Cameroon and Niger around the Lake Chad Basin.

There's a massive displacement crisis caused by a group called Boko Haram geal.

Now that's a that doesn't get much attention. It goes to the heart of this question the geography of poverty is being changed around the world and we're not going to meet the Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating global poverty of extreme poverty unless we get to grips with the failure of diplomacy that is leading to more people fleeing conflicts than ever before.

David Miliband of theI.R.S. thanks so much for joining us. Thank you very much.

About This Episode EXPAND

Christiane Amanpour interviews Gretchen Carlson, Chairwoman of the Miss America Organization and former Fox News anchor; and has an exclusive interview with Adel Ahmed Al-Jubeir, the Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister. Hari Sreenivasan interviews David Miliband, President of the International Rescue Committee.