Web Video: Terror attacks bring greater urgency to finding migrant crisis solutions

Nov. 19, 2015 AT 11:05 a.m. EST

Recent attacks have inspired growing calls among governments to restrict the unprecedented migration flowing into Europe and beyond. Gwen Ifill speaks with David Miliband, CEO of International Rescue Committee, and former Hungarian Ambassador András Simonyi about how countries can balance security with response to the refugee crisis.

Get Washington Week in your inbox


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

GWEN IFILL: For more on growing calls to restrict the unprecedented migration flowing into Europe and beyond, we turn to former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who is now president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee. And Andras Simonyi, he was Hungary’s ambassador to the United States and is now a professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Gentlemen, welcome.

Mr. Miliband, have the attacks in Paris and Beirut changed everything?

DAVID MILIBAND, International Rescue Committee: I think they have brought a new level of urgency and clarity to the challenges facing not just Western politicians, but actually politicians around the globe.

The European refugee crisis has crept up on the European Union over the last three or four years, when its attention was focused on the euro crisis and on the Russian intervention in Ukraine. The refugee crisis is now center stage. And it’s center stage for all the wrong reasons, and not just the horrific bombings in Beirut, the appalling attacks in France, but obviously the ongoing tragedy inside Syria itself.

I think the important thing is that they change some things. The appalling attacks do need to bring a new level of rigor, clarity, and consistency to the way in which the political settlement is sought in Syria. They do need to bring a new level of humanity to the very, very difficult situation that is faced by the refugees in neighboring states, four or five million of them. And, of course, they need to bring increased coordination on the security front, across Europe and with U.S. partners, although it has to be said that the U.S. situation is dramatically different from that in Europe.

GWEN IFILL: Well, and we will get to that.

Ambassador Simonyi, Hungary has taken a hard line on this idea of migration. And I wonder whether you see any connection between that debate and the debate we have seen about who is behind these bombings, in Paris, especially?

ANDRAS SIMONYI, Former Hungarian Ambassador to the United States: Well, of course, these issues are connected.

There are three things that are kind of piling on each other. One is the refugee crisis. The second is ISIS. And third is homegrown terrorism. These three things are a very, very dangerous mix, a very explosive mix.

I do not agree with the Hungarian government’s line that a total isolation, building a barbed wire around Hungary, not letting in any refugees without discrimination, is going to do the trick. But one thing — let me get back to the question that you asked Mr. Miliband. I do think it has changed something. There is now a greater sense of urgency in Europe to figure this out and figure it out together.

GWEN IFILL: Well, is urgency a good thing, Mr. Miliband, or is it conflation of unrelated events?

DAVID MILIBAND: The danger of urgency, obviously, is that it leads to panic, the issue of the fake, now clearly fake Syrian passport that became a story over the weekend. I’m afraid it’s a sad truth that the lie is halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on.

And I think the ambassador is right to say that there is a real urgency now about three things, first of all, the issue of how Europe is going to support the neighboring states of Syria in coping with the refugee load, secondly, how Europe is going to process the 500,000, 600,000, even 700,000 refugees who have arrived in Europe over the last year or so, many of them now in Germany, most of them now in Germany, and, thirdly, obviously, the acute security challenge relating to the new evidence that ISIS is willing to strike outside the Middle East.

Until now, the consensus opinion among academics has been that ISIS was focused on building the so-called caliphate within the Middle East. Now it’s clear that ISIS is ready to strike beyond those boundaries. And that puts an absolute premium on the security effort in respect of the homegrown problem that the ambassador has put his finger on.

GWEN IFILL: But, Mr. Ambassador, I wonder if you — I want to ask you about the conflation question, the dangers of that.

Obviously, urgency, when there is a crisis is not necessarily a bad thing. But what should be done? And should it be the E.U.? Should it be the U.N.? Should it be at Vienna?

ANDRAS SIMONYI: Well, when I say urgency, definitely no panic.

There are things we have to do immediately and then there are things we have to fix long term. Interestingly enough, yesterday, I came across an interview that was — a report that was done about Molenbeek, the place where the terrorists came from in Brussels, ’87. That is almost 30 years ago, which suggests that if we — if they don’t give these people a chance to integrate into society, and they don’t get them jobs, if they don’t get them opportunities, this is going to be an explosive, and we will pay a huge price.

Now, there is a — some introspection that has — we have to go through. But I truly believe that — you know, I believe that if Europe can get out of this, I call it a mess, it will get out of it stronger.

Definitely disintegrating and weakening the European Union is not a response. Let me also add that I am — I truly believe this has to be a transatlantic issue, and the United States and Europe needs to cooperate very, very closely to find a way out of this.

GWEN IFILL: Well, David Miliband, I’m sure you’re keeping track. There has been — the mild way of saying of it is reluctance, the harsher way is saying backlash in the United States to the idea of accepting additional refugees.

Is freedom compatible with security in moments like this?

DAVID MILIBAND: I think not only is freedom compatible with security, but effective refugee resettlement is founded on effective security.

The U.S. has a really excellent record in maintaining the security vetting process in respect of refugees. The extensive nature of the security vetting process is one of the explanations for the fact that only 2,200 Syrians have been allowed into this country over the last four years.

It’s a very, very rigorous security vetting process. And one of the dangers of the current debate in the U.S. is that the facts get lost. And the facts are 12 to 15 U.S. government agencies, including the intelligence agencies, spend 18 to 24 months vetting all the refugees who are put forward for resettlement into the U.S.

And I think it’s very important to maintain the principle that refugee resettlement is an American success story that should be built on. It’s certainly not something that should be ripped up.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Simonyi, Ambassador, is there any such thing as enough vetting in cases like that?

ANDRAS SIMONYI: Don’t count on 100 percent foolproof vetting. That’s not going to work.

But I do believe and I totally agree with Mr. Miliband that, if we allow these events to result in us giving up our ideals, our principles, which includes, of course, welcoming refugees who are really, really in trouble, running from war zones, then we are giving up more than just — just the refugees. Then we’re giving up what our societies are supposed to be about.

GWEN IFILL: David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, and Andras Simonyi, the former ambassador to the U.S. from Hungary, thank you both very much.




Support our journalism

Washington Week Logo

© 1996 - 2024 WETA. All Rights Reserved.

PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization

Support our journalism


Contact: Kathy Connolly,

Vice President Major and Planned Giving

kconnolly@weta.org or 703-998-2064