Refugee crisis will worsen if U.K. leaves EU, Says David Miliband

David Milband speech
International Rescue Committee chief executive David Miliband at an event at the Thomson Reuters building in New York, May 29, 2015. The global refugee crisis will worsen if the U.K. votes to leave the EU, he said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Leaving the EU would make the refugee crisis worse for Britain, not better, former U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on Wednesday.

"Leaving the European Union would not push the refugee problem further away, if anything it would do the opposite," said Miliband, speaking at the international affairs think-tank Chatham House in London, where he will take part in a major conference on Thursday that aims to raise billions of dollars from donors to respond to the Syrian crisis.

Referring to the infamous refugee camp in Calais, France, he added: "Instead of having a customs post in France it'll have to retreat 26 miles to the U.K... What the European refugee crisis shows is not too much European integration but actually too little."

He also accused European governments of "playing catch up" on the issue of refugees.

Miliband also said that civil wars crippling many Muslim states and fuelling a global refugee crisis are driven in part by major struggles within Islam that cannot be ignored.

This "implosion" in about two dozen Muslim-majority countries has forced people from their homes in "unheard-of" numbers, Miliband, now head of the New York-based humanitarian group International Rescue Committee, said.

"More people are fleeing conflict, they're fleeing conflict significantly in Muslim-majority countries, so the implosion in the Islamic world, in Afghanistan, in the Middle East, is driving it," he said.

Venturing into what he called "tricky territory", he added it would be dishonest not to report that his organization's work was increasingly focussed on crises in Muslim-majority countries.

"It seems to me there are big questions, big debates happening within Islam about the reconciliation of Islam to modernity, to democracy, of different segments within the Islamic tradition," he said.

"To pretend that that's not part of the story wouldn't be right," he added, without elaborating.

In several war-torn countries, militant Sunni literalists such as the Taliban and Islamic State are battling other Muslims who want the faith more adapted to the modern world or belong to a minority sect such as Shi'ism.

Miliband added his analysis did not apply to the whole of the Muslim world, citing Indonesia, the most populous Muslim-majority country, and Bangladesh as two examples of countries that did not fit into the narrative.

"It's not right to pretend that all Muslim-majority countries are undergoing this implosion," he said. "But I think if you look at the story in South Asia over the last 30 years and the story in the Middle East over the last 20 years, then that's part of the story."

Miliband said the Syrian crisis was a long-term issue, with large numbers of refugees likely to be living in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and other countries for many years, and this called for a change in the scale and nature of the response.

Refugees were increasingly living in urban areas, he said, where the fact they are not separate from the general population creates new demands very different from those of refugee camps.

Dozens of heads of state and government are due to attend the London pledging conference.

The United Nations estimates that $7.73 billion is needed to meet Syrian humanitarian needs this year, with an additional $1.2 billion required by countries in the region.