'Our treatment of refugees reveals our values – empathy is the basic building block of civilization'

23 February 2017


David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), warned that the world is experiencing a "moment of significance beyond one generation", with fragmentation in international politics and the rise of nationalism, as he delivered the 2017 James Martin Memorial Lecture.

Speaking on 'The refugee crisis and what to do about it' at Oxford's Sheldonian Theatre, the former UK Foreign Secretary said that while migration boosted the global economy, it was "tearing Western politics apart", with figures such as Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen presenting themselves as challenging globalisation and focusing on local priorities.

He said the ‘refugee question’ was a test of whether a new political agenda could be forged in such a tumultuous time. Rich nations needed to play their part in solving the global refugee crisis, he said, and argued that refugees became assets to countries they settled in, as “they know the value of freedom”.

Mr Miliband contended that the work of rescue was not just about “them” – refugees and displaced people – but also “us”, saying, “It is about what we in the Western world stand for, what has made us successful, and what will make us successful in the future.

"It is one of the hardest tests of of the values and character of a society ­– the treatment of refugees reveals our values. Empathy for other people, because they are people, not because of their race, ethnicity or religion, is the basic building block of what makes for civilization.”