February 1, 2019
Madeleine Albright and David Miliband
(CNN) – In 1956, András Gróf decided to start walking. At 20, he had survived Hungarian fascism, Nazi occupation, and the invasion of the Soviet Red Army. To escape the crossfire of a bloody counterrevolution, he walked from Budapest to Vienna, where he reached the offices of the International Rescue Committee (IRC): an organization founded by Albert Einstein to help people fleeing violence and persecution.
The IRC put Gróf on a boat to the United States. When he arrived at Ellis Island, he took the name Andy Grove.
Andy Grove went on to become co-founder and CEO of Intel. He is recognized today as one of the people who profoundly shaped Silicon Valley and the digital transformation of the world economy. The decision to admit this one refugee created immense prosperity for America.
Not every person fleeing violence is the next Andy Grove, but his story represents a basic truth: when given the opportunity to rebuild their lives in a welcoming country, refugees make enormous contributions. Despite being among the most vulnerable and destitute when they arrive, the data shows that refugees work hard and quickly become net economic contributors in their host societies. In other words, resettling refugees is not just the right thing to do — it’s the smart thing, too.
Yet today, the global refugee resettlement system is breaking down. There are approximately 1.4 million refugees worldwide who are in need of urgent resettlement — either because of their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or poor health. But in 2018, just 100,000 refugees were resettled, down from the previous year’s 180,000. Countries that once proudly welcomed refugees are closing their doors. Under the Trump administration, the United States is less welcoming to the international homeless now than at any time in modern memory.
This moment demands bold action — not only to revive the bipartisan American tradition of resettling refugees, but to broaden the coalition of countries accepting the world’s most vulnerable people.
At the IRC, we have concluded that persuading more countries to accept refugees requires a new coalition of actors — from the private sector, philanthropy and civil society — to address three constraints that hold countries back from doing more.