– And visiting and sharing your reflections from this morning. We are now gonna turn this part of the lunch over to our keynote speaker, and I have the pleasure
of introducing him. So our keynote speaker
today is Eric Schwartz. He is president of Refugee International. He has been president of Refugees
International since 2017. Before that, he was dean
of the Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota, Humphrey School for Public Affairs, which I’ve never told you, I almost got a job there many years ago. I was the top two, in
the top two candidates but didn’t get the offer. So we might’ve met there, actually, if life had been different. In 2009 to 2011, he was
assistant secretary of state for Population, Refugees,
and Migration under, you know, during the Obama administration. He has had a number of other jobs. He has been senior human rights, the senior human rights
and humanitarian official at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration. He’s had many other positions at the UN, years ago at the House of Representatives for the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs. Really, truly, I didn’t
see his CV or his resume, but if I had, I know it’s a
good 20-page read if not more. And all of these experiences, all of this capacity has been really based on a deep educational human capital that he acquired years ago. He has a law degree from NYU. He has a master’s in public affairs from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, and then, like me, years ago went to SUNY. He has a BA, I believe
it’s a BA, right, not a BS, from SUNY at Binghamton. So yes, it’s at least a 20-page read if you were to read his CV, and you could go online and
read the blurbs about him. You can also read what
he’s written online. There’s extensive material online. But what does this entire list
of accomplishments leave out? It leaves out his passion
and his commitment to refugees, asylum seekers, and humanitarian issues more broadly, and I think you’re gonna see and hear some of that now during the keynote. He has that passion,
and I didn’t know Eric until the last two years or so, so it’s not like we go way back. But in what I’ve read about
from what you’ve written, from what I’ve seen online, that passion and commitment to humanitarian issues hasn’t wavered throughout his career, and it underlies what I
think we’re gonna hear about, which is his unfettered optimism about the future for
refugees and asylum seekers. I might be overspeaking
that, but we’ll see. It’s a bit fettered, kind of unfettered, somewhere on the fettered spectrum. Anyway, please join me in welcoming Eric Schwartz to the podium. (group applauding) – Thank you, Katharine, for
that very generous introduction. My resume is not 20 pages, although having been in academia, I realize that it should’ve
been, but it wasn’t. And many thanks for joining us, and I’m sorry I haven’t been able to participate in your activities today, but the program sounds really fascinating. It’s a pleasure to
discuss the human rights of refugees and other forced migrants with the subtitle of these remarks, Confessions of a Humanitarian Optimist. And it is with some trepidation that I offer remarks to
a group of attendees, so many of whom are deeply involved in the work of refugee protection, whether that’s litigation
on behalf of asylum seekers, advocacy with policymakers,
engagement with the public, research and writing to
advance critical knowledge and understanding in the field. And before I get to the
subject of my remarks, which I hope will be
affirming and not depressing, I think it’s important
to state very clearly, the challenges that are in front of us as we think about promotion of the rights and well-being of refugees and others who are forcibly
displaced from their homes due to persecution, violence, human rights violations, and disasters that are borne by natural hazards and often exacerbated by the
impact of climate change. As most of you certainly know,
at this moment in history, more than 70 million
people around the world have fled their homes due to persecution, violence, human rights abuses. More than 25 million are refugees. More than 40 million others have fled within the borders of
their countries of origin. And beyond those numbers, as we know, there are millions of
people displaced each year by disasters from natural
hazards, earthquakes, hurricanes, storm surges. The war in Syria has displaced millions, both internally and beyond
the borders of that country. Misrule and deprivation
has displaced millions of Venezuelans throughout the
countries of South America. A brutal on attack the Rohingya
Muslims in western Burma affected by crimes against humanity perpetrated by the military of Burma resulted in massive forced migration in addition to the killing
of many, many thousands, massive forced migration
of some 700 Rohingya into Bangladesh, bringing the total number of Rohingya in that country
to around a million. These forced migrations have come on top of older and protracted
situations of displacement involving Afghans in places like Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey, South Sudanese in Uganda and in other neighboring countries and many other populations
around the world. And much closer to
home, misery and despair resulting from the greatest fears of persecution and violence has caused hundreds of thousands in recent years to flee countries of Central America in search of freedom from fear. So where are we today in the response? Unfortunately, at a moment in history when people of the
world would most benefit by elevated political dialogue on global forced migration
informed by evidence as well as by policies
that seek to reconcile or actually vindicate both the need for migration management
and more than a modicum of humanity, we are
confronted with policies that are informed by
nativism and a rejection of the biblical admonition
to welcome the stranger. In Europe, governments have closed borders to asylum seekers, for
instance, in the case of Libya, have gone so far as to
enter into arrangements in which they are complicit in the return of asylum seekers to situations threatening their lives and their freedom. In recent weeks, the government of Turkey has perpetrated a
campaign in northern Syria that is causing displacement of many tens of something like 200,000
with its president, with Turkey’s president
suggesting a massive and ultimately forced
and illegal relocation of a million Syrian refugees into a region from which Kurds are
being ethnically cleansed. In the United States, I
don’t need to tell this group that we have witnessed
a parade of horribles that reflect unmitigated hostility by the current administration
toward asylum seekers. These have included
unprecedented reductions in the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and efforts effectively to end asylum for vulnerable Central Americans and return them to
situations of grave risk. And you say, where’s the optimism, right? It’s coming. With respect to overseas
humanitarian engagement, President Trump has proposed each year massive cuts in assistance and has failed to speak out against horrendous abuses giving rise to massive refugee flight, such as large-scale killings and flight of Rohingya to Bangladesh. In fact, the president
of the United States has not uttered a single public word about these crimes against humanity, among the most grave of our generation. The president has made clear in places like northeast Syria that protection of vulnerable communities like the Kurds are of little interest
to his administration, and he has, in addition,
withdrawn from key multilateral initiatives relating to
migration and refugees. Perhaps most disturbing
has been the hateful and evidence-free rhetoric
and the demonization of forced migrants and asylum seekers by the political leadership
in our country, the president. And of course, what makes
this all the more upsetting is the fact that the consensus, the consensus in the United States and in other parts of the
world on behalf of principles of inclusion has always been a fragile one and that at key points in our history, we’ve really relied on leadership to promote those principles, leadership that is now
so terribly wanting. So that’s the bad news, but the bad news shouldn’t prevent us from being reminded
and reminding ourselves and being fortified by the
most compelling principle to my mind that animates
the work of advocates for refugees, for forced migrants, for humanitarian assistance,
and for protection. And that’s the principle of humanity, the notion that the
suffering of one person, a Rohingya refugee child
threatened with malnutrition or sexual violence in a
refugee camp in Bangladesh is intrinsically, that suffering, is intrinsically no less significant, no less compelling, no
less worthy of compassion and response than if that suffering child was your own or my own child. We can, I suppose, and
we should, and I have, made many arguments based
on refugee contributions to economic growth, on the
value of refugee assistance and protection and a
national security strategy and for promoting U.S.
leadership around the world. But for me, and I believe for
most of the America public and publics around the world, it is this principle of
humanity that is so critical because it provides for
us the moral foundation of our work and because
it inspires us, advocates, policymakers, citizens
who elect policymakers to promote practices and policies that recognize that
there but for the grace of God or fate go all of us. So why, despite all the nasty and vicious, gratuitously cruel policies
coming from Washington, the terrible ways that
Washington’s assault on asylum, on refugee protection, on refugee resettlement is
enabling terrible behavior among other governments around the world, why are there reasons to
persevere and to be encouraged? First, I think it’s very important to come to these challenges
with a sense of perspective and to take the long
view and to appreciate that nativism, chauvinism,
bullying of migrants and others who are vulnerable is not new to our political culture
or around the world. Here in the United States, there is, of course, our original sin of slavery, but there has been so much more. In the 19th century, there
were Know-Nothing appeals to anti-immigrant sentiment. In the early part of the 20th century, there were the antisemitic
rants of demagogues like Charles Edward
Coughlin who reportedly had tens of millions of followers. There was, of course, the trafficking in innuendo and guilt by association of Senator Joe McCarthy during the 1950s. In short, there have always
been loud voices of intolerance appealing to our fears
rather than our hopes and our aspirations,
ready to blame the other in pursuit of political power. So these challenges, really, they’re never conclusively won. There is no end of history for vindication of human rights and the triumph
of justice over inequality. Rather, there is the critical
importance of perseverance, of engagement, of a
willingness to stay the course. And even in these difficult times, there are more than
simply glimmers of hope for those who care deeply about promoting a brighter future for
tens of millions of people each year who are displaced. We can be inspired by the strength and the willingness of
those forced from their home to endure suffering and to persevere. The Rohingya woman, her name was Lila, whom I met in Bangladesh who saw soldiers torch her village and shoot
people attempting to flee who escaped with her three young daughters as her husband told
here he would meet them in Bangladesh who learned later that her husband was shot and killed and who was determined to tell her story, to tell her story, was
determined to tell her story so the world could know and determine to make a life for herself
and for her children. We can be inspired by
people like the Colombians I met last year in and outside of Cucuta near the Venezuelan
border who were welcoming the strangers, providing
assistance to so-called caminantes, the walkers who were
in many cases traveling hundreds of miles from
the border to Bogota. We can be inspired by these
and countless other stories of endurance and the
willingness to sustain hope of those whose lives have
been so dramatically affected. We can be encouraged that
while forced migration around the world is certainly
an overwhelming burden for millions of affected people, it is really a manageable
global public policy challenge. Refugees and others forcibly displaced by conflict, persecution, and human rights make up a tiny percent of
the world’s population, and the $27 billion or so spent on humanitarian assistance
each year is really minuscule. In other words, while the bad news may be that governments are not
doing enough to address humanitarian needs, we
know that with greater political will, these challenges
are quite surmountable. We can be encouraged
that despite annual calls by the current presidential administration for massive reductions in
U.S. humanitarian assistance around the world, and refugee assistance, the Congress has sustained generous levels of international humanitarian assistance from Africa to Asia to the
Middle East and beyond. We can be encouraged, but
we can’t be complacent, and we must do more,
such as continue efforts, for example, to undo the
elimination of support for the United Nations Fund
for Population Activities which provides critical
assistance to women and girls. We can be encouraged that
despite the hateful rhetoric around migration and forced migration, the vast majority of governments last year endorsed the Global Compact on Migration, a kind of rights-based
desideratum which recognizes, I always like to get a little Latin into every speech,
(audience laughs) which recognizes that individuals forced from their homes for
a broad array of reasons are deserving of basic protections. We can be encouraged, but
we can’t be complacent as calls to action including, for example, a call on governments to respond to climate-induced forced migrants. Calls to action must be followed by real policy measures
that define those responses. In this respect, we can also be encouraged by legislative proposals in the Senate and the House for a
program of resettlement for those impacted by climate change. We can be encouraged that
international organizations and governments have
begun, however tentatively, to recognize that the world’s refugees should not be warehoused
pending political solutions in their countries that
are uncertain at best and unlikely at worst, but
rather that such people deserve access to education, employment, and the ability to develop themselves and their families in
their places of refuge. We can be encouraged that governments from Uganda to Jordan
to Ethiopia to Colombia have sought, however unevenly
and in varying degrees, to realize those objectives. And as a result, South Sudanese refugees, Syrian refugees, Venezuelan refugees, and others in countries
of refuge are better off. But we can’t be complacent
as the protection records of each of these governments
is far from perfect, whether it is corruption that impacted the program in Uganda,
restrictions on the right to work and border restrictions in Jordan, failure to consider the
needs of internally displaced persons in Ethiopia or
practices in Colombia that are lagging behind
policy pronouncements about inclusion of Venezuelans. We can be encouraged that
lawyers in the United States and around the world remain
really on the front lines right now of efforts to
ensure basic protections for asylum seekers and refugees, but we can’t be complacent as the demands for legal representation
and legal advocacy have dramatically
outstripped current supply, and law firms and private
philanthropy must do much more. We can be encouraged by
new and innovative ways that advocates are using
to engage the public debate with positive and compelling messages about the contributions of
refugees and immigrants, but here again, work has just begun. And while there is no
shortage of survey data demonstrating that majorities of Americans in some way, shape, and/or form do wish to welcome the stranger,
advocates have as yet not succeeded in making
support for refugees a winning proposition in
our political culture. And finally, we can be
encouraged that so many of you remain committed to use your talents and skills to sustain
these and related efforts. So in closing, I don’t mean to be Pollyannaish, which is a word, and without making this a partisan speech, I do know there are so many
limitations to progress without a dramatic change
in our country’s politics and the politics around the world. But none of that should
diminish our appreciation of the value and the impact of these and other continued efforts to create the prospects for a brighter future for hundreds of millions
of people around the world. Thank you. (audience applauding) I’m taking questions? All right, I’m taking questions. Questions? Yes, in the back. – [Audience Member] So thank you so much. I would like to ask, what
do you think the future of the United States policy concerning that critical issue which
is the refugees would be especially at the level
of the southern border? – Well, I think there’s no question that in this administration, we know what the policy
measures are gonna be. President Trump has indicated in so many different ways that, without really knowing that there is a Refugee Convention and Protocol, that he fundamentally rejects the values and the obligations that that document imposes upon states and imposes,
and not only that document, but also our own domestic law, our own implementing legislation. So the future in the
current administration is, you know, I’m not reading any tea leaves. I’m basically repeating
what the president has said, “Don’t come, and if you try to come, “we’re not gonna let you come.” And he has matched that rhetoric, or his administration
has matched that rhetoric with sort of an unmatched array of policies and practices that few of us would have ever dreamt an
administration official would ever try to implement. And I can run through them,
but I think most of you know what most of those
policies and practices are. I mean, whether it’s the
Remain in Mexico policy, whether it’s the criminalization
of border crossing, whether it’s these grotesque
safe third country agreements that are not only grotesque,
but they’re also malicious and mischievous because
they turn the whole concept of a safe third country
agreement on their heads. So we could talk about
those, but you know, it’s one thing after another. And so in this administration, I don’t think there’s any expectation. And what is interesting about this administration
is for many years, for decades, the human
rights community’s single, I think, most significant achievement was to socialize norms of human rights. That didn’t mean that the
governments around the world all respected human
rights, but it did mean the governments that
didn’t respect human rights were on the defensive, and
they at least had to give lip service to the fact that
they do respect those rights. And it provided advocates with
a tool, the tool of shame. Reporting, report cards, you name it, those were the tools of
the advocacy community. But when you have an administration that fundamentally rejects
the basic principles underlying human rights and
the human rights movement, that tool of advocacy
becomes far less effective. In fact, it becomes kind of ineffective. Now, don’t get me wrong. We still use it because
there are still people in the administration
who feel an obligation to talk about this or have
some legal obligations to talk about it, so when they announce they’re gonna do 18,000 refugees, they say, well, the real reason, one of the real reasons
we’re gonna only permit resettlement of 18,000 refugees next year is because we think our
fundamental obligation is to asylum, so we’re
gonna have to deploy our resources to asylum, right? So but then at least you can call that out and explain why that’s bullshit, right? Pardon my language, but in that, so there’s some, we can
still do some calling out, but by and large, that tool of advocacy has largely been denied
because they don’t care about refugees, and they say so. I’ve been talking, I’ve
been riffing on this because the tougher question is, what about a different administration, Democratic or Republican? I think any new administration, whether it’s a William Weld administration or a Joe Biden administration, will move in a very different direction. Not that, you know, that
we were imperfect exemplars even under great assistant
secretaries of state for refugees, one of whom
is sitting to my left, we were imperfect exemplars
of refugee protection principles throughout our history, but at least we aspired to
those objectives, right? And if there was serious abuses going on of refugee rights
anywhere around the world, American diplomats were engaged, right? Or we had more than a modicum of shame about brutal policies on the border. So it’s not like the Obama administration treated border crossers with kid gloves, but they were aware of
the scrutiny and you know, the person who ran that area of government for Obama used to be a senior official at the National Council of La Raza, right? And so that had, you
know, so we can expect in a different administration,
Democrat or Republican, I work for a nonpartisan organization, that there will be efforts to move away. What I’m worried about, and
I think this is important for the advocacy community,
is we shouldn’t underestimate, we should not underestimate
the political challenges that a new administration will face in undoing things like Remain in Mexico, like safe third country agreements. There will be all kinds of voices, especially on the security side. I know, ’cause I had the same situation when I came into the
Clinton administration, you know, on Haiti policy, right? There will be all these voices
within the administration and within the body politic that says maybe some of these things are still valuable tools that we should maintain. So we can’t underestimate the challenge of reversing some of the terrible policies that this administration has imposed. – [Audience Member]
Yep, so thank you again for your presentation. So my question is, for
organizations like yours, it seems like you’re caught
in this difficult place where on the one hand,
you have to sort of talk about the urgency and the
emergency because you need funding and you need
attention, and we need that, right, to be able to
call attention to this. But on the other, by using that narrative, we can fall into the trap of
going to the more of panic and immigrants are coming
in waves and crisis. So I wonder how you navigate that tension between presenting the sense of urgency and emergency but actually
making sure that people understand that it’s not what, another narrative are presenting out there about the nature of refugees
and forcibly displaced people. – Well, that’s a great question. I mean, I think that I
tried to get at that issue a little bit in my comments when I said that this is a very
manageable problem, challenge. Maybe I was overstating it
a little bit, but I really, I think Beth and I were at meeting where people were talking
about “Stop saying “this is the highest
number of people displaced “since World War II” because in the course of global history, this ain’t so bad. I think we have to be cognizant of that reality and also cognizant of the fact that if you
speak in apocalyptic terms, people are gonna get frightened. But I would also make a distinction between saying that something represents a humanitarian imperative
and in some respects reflects a humanitarian crisis and saying that this is a
national security crisis. There are different
kinds of crises (laughs), and we have to figure out ways to make distinctions that the public can understand and appreciate. – Hi.
– Hi. – [Audience Member] While your argument for the historical analysis
is very revitalizing in seeing that these problems of nativism and chauvinism are nothing new and that there has ultimately been people who have propagated the message of hope, I think it’s important to realize that while this overarching
hope has existed, the problem is still iterative and present in our society today. So what is going to break the cycle of the nativism and chauvinism and the barriers to entry
and kind of build upon and expand upon this
hope that people have? – In other words, it’s
nice to be philosophical about these things, but
what are you gonna do? And I think that’s a
very reasonable question. I do think it’s a
challenge because I think that these issues, for whatever reason, are very susceptible to
the stoking of fear, right? There are some issues where presumably it’s more difficult to stoke fear. Not so much with these issues because, I guess, human beings have apprehension about those who look
different and those who, and so stoking fear,
especially in the context of 9/11 and the security challenges that we, the United States
and other governments have confronted, so it’s a
big, it is a big challenge. It’s not easy, and what
makes it more difficult is it’s precisely the kind of challenge that we would have a
better capacity to address if the messaging from
our political leaders was designed to address
this (chuckles), right? And so yeah, we’re kind of in this perfect storm of a bad situation. And so what is the political
strategy out of it, both in terms of people who
focus on refugees rights as well as people who focus on politics. And since this really isn’t a conversation about politics, I’ll stick more to, I mean, it is about politics,
this is all politics, but partisan politics,
I’ll stick to the latter. But I will say about the
former, the politics, is I think that, you know, I think, again, not a partisan statement, but I think it was noteworthy that despite the rhetoric
and the nativism, and none of that went away
in the 2018 elections, mid-term elections, but they don’t seem to have had a dramatic
effect on what people decided to do at the ballot box. So I can be, you know, you can be mildly encouraged about that, but in terms of how do
you change the narrative in a compelling way, I mean, my organization is
working on that right now. We have a brand-new program
focused on strategic outreach. We’re collaborating with
other non-governmental organizations, and it’s a combination of political efforts,
not partisan efforts, in fact, political efforts
to reach across the aisle to look at, to find unlikely partners and constituencies in
the business community among Republicans because, you know, Republican members of Congress have been pretty unified in their staunch opposition to the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program since September of 2015
or thereabouts, right? Before that, it was a
strong bipartisan consensus on behalf of refugee resettlement, so the campaign efforts in which, that we’re involved in
and others are involved in are really focusing on both sides of the political aisle, constituencies, Republican and Democratic,
but Republican constituencies where there is sympathy at the states. Look at what the governor
of Utah, I believe, just made a declaration saying that his state will
accept refugees, right? So it’s engagement across
political boundaries. It’s also better mobilization of the sympathetic constituencies which just haven’t been
involved in these issues. And those efforts are going on. They have, as I said in my remarks, they have yet to be, I think, successful, but I think they’re critically important. – Hi.
– Hi. – [Audience Member] Thank
you for coming to speak. I’m just kinda curious
how refugee advocates like yourself proactively plan for the estimated 140 million-plus people that are expected to be displaced
by climate change by 2050? – (laughs) Well, we’re fortunate at Refugees International
because one of my predecessors, Ken Bacon, who was a
former press spokesman at the Department of Defense and tragically passed away in 2009. Prior to his passing, he, in
recognition of this challenge, provided a gift to Refugees International in coordination and with the
support of other large donors, established I think one of the first, if not the first, climate
displacement program supported by a
non-governmental organization. And so we’ve had a program
in climate displacement for 10 years, for over 10 years. And so I think the best way
I can answer your question is to describe some of the
issue that we focus on. First, we focus on
making elite communities aware of this challenge, right? And so in the context of, for example, the Global Compact on Migration, our climate displacement
manager at the time, her name was Alice, her
name is Alice Thomas, worked very hard to inject statements, expressions of
concern on climate displacement into the Global Compact on Migration. Now, that language isn’t binding, but that language is very helpful when you’re a U.S. senator
and you’re thinking about legislation to provide resettlement for climate refugees, right, or when you’re in an
international organization and you’re questioning
whether enough resources are being focused on
disaster risk reduction, which is kinda the flip
side or very similar to the whole area and field
of climate adaptation, right? We’re really kinda talking about two sides of the same coin. We’ve done a lot of
reporting, country reporting on natural disasters in circumstances where those disasters, the
impact of those disasters have been exacerbated over time by the impact of climate change and focused on critically important issues of building resilience and ensuring that disaster risk reduction
and adaptation principles are included in legislation,
such as in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, to
ensure that those kinds of improvements are informed
or reconstruction’s informed by principles of adaptation
and risk reduction. The other thing that we
do as an organization, I think, is we kind of, we’re not involved in mitigation, obviously,
not directly involved in mitigation efforts, but
I think by our reporting, by the reporting that we do, and I think the reporting that others do, you know, you kinda play the role of I would say canary in the coal mine, but you’re not a canary. It’s quite, you know, you’re
trying to be very public in your advocacy but
demonstrating the effects of global warming over
time on displacement. I think, I like to think
that that has some impact on discussions surrounding mitigation.