David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee, on Wednesday criticized Europe for playing “catch-up” over the refugee crisis after belatedly realizing the extent of the problem.
The former British foreign secretary said the European response to the hundreds of thousands fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq could not just consist of humanitarian aid.
“Let's be absolutely clear: the choice that Europe faces is not between whether refugees come or refugees don't come,” he told a meeting at the Chatham House think-tank in London.
“The choice is whether they come in a chaotic, illegal and disorganized way or in a more organized, more legal, more disciplined way. That's the choice.”
Miliband, whose organization is running aid operations to support Syrian refugees inside and outside the country, said Europe had not yet processed asylum applications from last year.
“One really shouldn't understate the gravity of the challenge Europe is going to face over the course of this year,” he said. “When I talk about playing catch-up: the million people who applied for asylum on the continent of Europe last year haven't all been processed.”
Miliband, who became chief executive of the New York-based committee after losing a Labour Party leadership race to his brother Ed in 2010, demanded greater financial support for Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan - the three countries bordering Syria that have taken in the vast bulk of refugees.
The “only basis for engaging with the neighbors is to say you will only be able to bear this burden if we, the international community, support you not just through humanitarian aid but economic financing,” he told the audience in a speech given in the run-up to the Syrian Donors Conference.
“The purpose of this conference, which I think is well-founded, is to say you cannot have a sustainable humanitarian response that is only social services, there has got to be an economic offer both to the countries and to the refugees.”
He rejected the view that a recent 3 billion euro ($3.29 billion) aid deal between Turkey and EU was a “bribe”.
Miliband said: “My own view is that we're paying the price in part for Europe's turn away from Turkey after 2010 and Turkey's turn away from Europe after 2010."