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Refugees and displacement

Madeleine Albright on the global refugee crisis

Why refugee resettlement in the West is a moral imperative, from America’s first female secretary of state.

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Chief Innovation Officer, International Rescue Committee
Director of Innovation Strategy, International Rescue Committee

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Overshadowed by the bombast of President Trump’s September address to the UN General Assembly was a statement of priorities on refugee resettlement: “For the cost of resettling one refugee in the United States, we can assist more than 10 in their home region.” Those statistics are disputed, but the argument is compelling on its face. Given the immense scale of the refugee crisis, the idea of applying resources in places where a little bit goes a long way sounds like a panacea. It’s the implicit rationale behind, for example, the World Bank’s financing of refugee assistance and resettlement in places like Uganda, Jordan, and Pakistan.

Madeleine Albright
Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright. Photo: Timothy Greenfield.

Critics of its fuzzy utilitarian math aside, the most strident objections to this model have come from those who insist it is morally bankrupt. In this episode of Displaced, Madeleine Albright, the first female secretary of state and one of America’s most well-known refugees, slams those who claim supporting refugees abroad is more cost-effective than resettling them in the West.

“I find it sad...to have to defend refugee resettlement” in the United States, the former Secretary of State tells Displaced hosts Ravi Gurumurthy and Grant Gordon. The idea of resettling refugees in developing countries to save costs is “a B.S. argument...while one could maybe make that kind of rational argument, it’s philosophically and morally unjust.”

Secretary Albright discusses how her own experience as a refugee informs her response to today’s debate on some of the fine points in the politics of refugee resettlement, how her views on the media have evolved from Solidarity to the Arab Spring, and how to reconcile the responsibility to protect with fears of mission creep of statebuilding.

Listen to the full conversation on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

I find [the idea of resettling refugees in developing countries to save on costs] a B.S. argument...while one could maybe make that kind of rational argument, it’s philosophically and morally unjust.

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Opinions and views expressed by guests are their own and do not reflect those of the International Rescue Committee.