And third, both my parents were refugees, so I felt in some way I was closing the circle by dedicating my professional life to helping people who were in many ways different than my family, but shared some of the same tragic circumstances.
When you talk about the I.R.C. becoming a “roused giant,” is that because the refugee crisis is getting worse today?
It’s getting worse. We’ve now got 68.5 million refugees and internally displaced people; people fleeing wars, advanced persecution. That’s not including people who are fleeing for economic reasons. We’ve got Venezuela, and Central America. And I think the I.R.C. has a distinctive story to tell about working from the war zone, to the refugee hosting state, to the refugee transit route, to refugee resettlement.
When you look at the size of the challenges you just described, are you optimistic or pessimistic?
If you look at the statistics, you get depressed. If you look at the people, you have hope. If you’re looking for hope, think about the woman in Kampala who’s a South Sudanese refugee who lost her sister, who’s now got employment thanks to a grant she got from us; and she’s paid for her daughter to go through college, and at college the daughter learned to become a nurse and the nurse wants to go back to South Sudan. If they’re not pessimistic, then what excuse do we have to be?
Where do you stand on Steven Pinker’s argument that overall, the world is getting better?
Well, I’ve got a big caveat. It’s true that the generalized trends toward peace and prosperity are positive. But the acute counterexamples of pain and suffering are getting worse. What it seems to me we need to recognize is that relying on the generalized trends toward peace and prosperity is not really enough to pick up the hundreds of million people who get caught up in the places that are fragile and conflict-ridden.
What’s your opinion of the Trump administration’s border policies?
My reaction is to be very, very critical of the abandonment of America’s historic role as a humanitarian leader. That’s not a political statement. It’s a statement about policy. Reducing the number of refugees by three-quarters is not in accord with America’s values, and we don’t think it’s in America’s interest. Reducing aid to Central America is not in accord with America’s values, and it’s probably increased the number of people who are fleeing north. The I.R.C. reunites families around the world in war zones, so when we see one of the richest countries in the world separating families, obviously we are very critical.
What are your thoughts on Brexit?
It’s sort of like watching a never-ending football match where your team is permanently shipping goals. The fact that we even had a referendum was a breakdown of politics, because we’re a parliamentary democracy, not a plebiscitary democracy. The fact that we lost the referendum was a breakdown of politics. The conduct of the negotiation since the referendum was a breakdown of politics, and the effects are going to be felt for many years to come.