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Spotlight on the global refugee crisis; Saving the oceans from plastic pollution. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 20, 2018 - 14:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Tonight, after a barrage of criticism, President Trump makes a welcome U-turn to put an end to family

separation at the border. On this World Refugee Day, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi joins me.

Also ahead, the legendary sailor Dame Ellen MacArthur on her campaign to tackle the plastics that are poisoning our oceans.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

It's World Refugee Day. And this year, it's landed right in the midst of an almighty political and humanitarian row over foreigners, migrants,

asylum seekers, just plain refugees; a row that's challenging the very foundation and values of our Western democracies from Europe all the way to

the United States.

The Pope even weighed in saying that it's immoral to separate families. But from the eastern front where Hungary today has passed a harsh new anti-

immigrant law to the western front where the United States has been separating children from their parents, populist leaders are having their


Now, after sustaining a torrent of criticism over his zero-tolerance policy at the US-Mexico border, President Trump says he'll sign something to keep

those families together.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We want to keep families together. It's very important. I'll be signing something a little while

that's going to do that. And the people in this room want to do that and they're working on various pieces of legislation to get it done. But I'll

be doing something that's somewhat preemptive, but ultimately will be matched by legislation I'm sure.


AMANPOUR: But what to do when politics and desperate displaced people collide. I asked Filippo Grandi, head of the UN Refugee Agency. He joined

me earlier from Niger in West Africa and he reacted to Trump's latest decision, which was breaking just as we were wrapping up this interview.

Filippo Grandi, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: So, on this day, you've been accompanying refugees from one end of the spectrum to the other. Just give me an idea of some of the stories

you've heard today.

GRANDI: So many stories. Last night, as you said, I traveled, I flew with 122 refugees that we had helped get free from detention centers in Libya to

Niger from where hopefully they'll be resettled to third countries.

And I spent time during the long flight with them and heard lots of stories. Stories, of course, of why they became refugees in their own

countries, stories of war, of persecution, of a lot of discrimination and violence.

But then, on top of that, and this is the increasingly new feature that we see in refugee crisis, stories of abuse and violence on the way because a

lot of these movements are at the hands of smugglers, traffickers that are true criminals that make a business of people's lives.

AMANPOUR: What's going wrong with the global response to refugees?

GRANDI: Unfortunately, some politicians are exploiting the apprehensions, the legitimate apprehensions and fears of people in those rich countries

you're talking about to blame migrants and refugees as the carriers of the risks that people fear of violence, of insecurity, of taking jobs away in

uncertain economic situations in - of values being threatened.

And, of course, especially in the case of refugees, that is totally the opposite, isn't it? People are fleeing from insecurity, people are fleeing

because they're deprived of basic rights. So, it's quite the opposite, and yet they're depicted as threats.

And that brings votes. And that is what is very dangerous because it turns public opinion against these flows and then laws become more restrictive

and previous more open, more generous policies of accepting refugees get eroded and this is what we see all over the rich world unfortunately.

AMANPOUR: The International Rescue Committee has also put out a report to mark World Refugee Day, but it goes to the heart of what you're just

talking about.

For instance, apparently 60 percent of Americans believe that the United States does have a moral responsibility to care for refugees and the facts

show that not a single resettled refugee has committed a lethal attack on US soil since this whole modern resettlement effort began and was

established in 1980.

[14:05:04] And furthermore, two-thirds of Americans recognized that resettled refugees actually do contribute a great amount to their

societies, to their economies, to their cultures and everything.

So, if the people in places like America where we see this horrendous situation on the border right now, if they understand the need to help

refugees, how do you counter the narrative of what you've just said, populist politicians seeking votes?

GRANDI: It is important to repeat what the IRC report says. It's important to continuously convey the true narrative. It's important to

tell the stories of people, not just of numbers, and this is what we're trying to do.

It's difficult. We and the IRC and others are not political organizations. We are humanitarian organizations. Our voice carries less than that of

politicians. But I also think that it is important to remind politicians that the voices are out there are not just the voices of hostility, of

fear, of rejection.

There is enormous solidarity. There is even more than the recognition you're talking about. There is active solidarity. Look at what happened a

few days ago in Spain when the Aquarius finally docked in the only country that accepted it. Thousands of people came to express solidarity, to bring

help to the migrants and refugees that were disembarked.

So, what I think is important for all of us is to tell politicians, listen also to that to those voices, not just to the negative voices, listen to

the positive voices of solidarity, their voices and these are also voices of people who vote.

AMANPOUR: It is heartbreaking to think that only one Western European country, one democracy would accept this boat full of refugees. Your own

country, Italy, refused.

You can see what's happening in Germany where the interior minister is threatening the government of Angela Merkel for her generous refugee


Hungary has just passed a law, which could make it a criminal offence for a Hungarian or anybody in that country to help a refugee. They could be


The United States has created a zero tolerance policy that takes all this into a criminal zone, away from the civic zone that it used to be.

This is reminiscent, Filippo Grandi, of the kind of things that we saw during World War II, the worst of the worst of our modern and recent

historical experiences.

GRANDI: If you start to thrive politically on negativity, that's a slippery slope. I would agree with you. So, it's important to come out in

force, all those that think otherwise and talk differently and influence the political dynamics in a different way. I entirely agree.

It is also true that sometimes excesses, sometimes crisis like in this case generate new solutions. I know for a fact that, in Europe, for example,

among all countries, there is a realization that these flows have to be managed otherwise and that principle cannot be completely ignored.

We're being consulted by European institutions, by European Member States and that's important. We need to put forward a narrative, a reasonable


These arrivals in Europe have gone down dramatically in the last few months. There is no emergency. There is no refugee emergency.

Refugee emergency is here in Niger. It's here in Africa where I speak from. It's not in Europe. But we need to put forward calmly this

narrative and put forward concrete proposal on how to manage these flows in a pragmatic principle, but pragmatic manner.

And this can only be based, and this is another very difficult challenge, on sharing, on doing it together and this is what worries me as well, is

that Europe unfortunately seems to go country by country instead of as a political union as it should.

AMANPOUR: And in fact, indeed, you say - Chancellor Merkel has tried for years to get a Europe-wide solution to this immigration problem and they

just haven't stepped up. None of the countries have stepped up.

GRANDI: No. But I can tell you that, even in the last few days, we've had several conversations with many influential member states in Europe and I

think that there is a growing realization that we have to get our act together, that they have to get their act together and I mean it literally.

Get their act together. If not, there will be no solution. And one country after the other, in separate moments, separate countries will pay

the price.

[14:10:00] By the way, yes, there was a reaction from the Italians recently, but it is also true that Italy received most of the new arrivals

in the last year.

There was a reaction in Germany, but it is also true that, in 2015, most of the refugees went to Germany. So, it's these imbalances that have to be

corrected and this can only be done through collective work, through common solutions in which everybody has to give something to gain something.

AMANPOUR: Let's just turn to the United States, which has really galvanized the American people, faith leaders in the United States, these

terrible pictures, these terrible tapes of crying children being separated from their parents.

I just want to ask you, do you know of any other civilized country that actually has a policy of separating or an agenda - I'm sorry - because it

is not a legal federal policy in the United States, an administration agenda of separating children from their parents in these kinds of


GRANDI: Well - and I know, Christiane, that you will agree with me, I don't really classify countries in civilized or uncivilized. I think that

there are countries unfortunately where this happens, but it is really wrong and inhumane to separate children from their family.

I can't think of any measure that could be so detrimental to the people that are suffering and that already in a hardship situation, so this really

needs to stop.

AMANPOUR: You are reluctant to use the word civilized, but doesn't our reaction and our response to these gravest needs sort of define our

civilization, define us as human beings.

GRANDI: Yes, obviously. I think that - and this is what I tweeted this morning when I woke up on World Refugee Day here in Niger. I wanted to

remind everybody of the fundamentals that providing refuge, protection, asylum, call it as you wish, to people in distress because they're fleeing

from violence, war, persecution is an act of humanity that all cultures - all cultures! - all civilizations, to use your word, share in history and


And also - and I think it's important to remember that dimension as well. This principle is enshrined in international law, in refugee law. So,

respecting that principle is not only upholding values, it's also fulfilling what I would call a legal obligation.

AMANPOUR: So, given that fact - and again, given the fact that zero tolerance is not an official US policy, it's an administration agenda of

this current administration. What would you advise to the Trump administration for them to deal with whatever issues they have at their

border, security and all of that, but also respect, the humanity and the humanitarian law for these people?

GRANDI: There is a big problem at the border. And we've been dealing with this problem together constructively, together with the US for years, well

before this administration.

There is a problem of huge backlog of asylum application. It's in the hundreds of thousands. It's the biggest in the world. But what needs to

be done there is investing the right resources in addressing this problem and reducing it, not creating deterrence measures that go against basic

right and basic humanity and, frankly, I believe are not effective in stopping the problem the way they're intended to do.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Grandi, it appears that after a huge amount of both domestic and global pressure, the president has bowed to reality and he is

signing an executive order to keep families together at the border. Your response to that? You must be delighted.

GRANDI: I learn this from you now and it is, of course, welcome news and we can now go back to addressing the problem in a principled, pragmatic,

concrete, effective manner as we've been doing for years with the US administration. Thank you for letting me know.

AMANPOUR: Filippo Grandi, thank you so much for joining us on this World Refugee Day.

GRANDI: Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: Now, of course, according to sources, the fact that the president says he's going to keep families together does not mean that the

zero tolerance policy is going to be rejected. So we'll see how that policy continues and whether families will be detained altogether now.

The outcry over Trump's immigration policy comes hot on the heels of another controversial move by the United States on the environment.

At the recent G7 meeting, the president and US refused to sign an agreement on reducing plastic waste in the world's oceans. It's the only country

along with Japan that failed to do so.

[14:15:03] The state of our seas is a burning issue of our time. The documentary, "Blue Planet II", on plastic pollution captured the world's

attention with blockbuster viewing figures in Britain, in the United States and even in China.

Then came this month's arresting National Geographic front cover. Look at this. It's not an iceberg. It's a plastic bag.

The UK edition was guest edited by one of Britain's most celebrated names. She's Dame Ellen MacArthur. Her record-breaking sailing voyage around the

world in 2005 secured her place in history and turned her into a household name and she joined me here in the studio to talk about teaming up with Nat

Geo's "Planet or Plastic" campaign, which is aimed at reducing the amount of single-use plastic that's polluting our oceans.

Dame Ellen MacArthur, welcome to the program. Thank you.


AMANPOUR: So, looking at this picture back in 2005, it is extraordinary that you were the fastest person, man or woman, ever to circle the globe

alone. Do you remember how it felt all those years ago?

MACARTHUR: I guess, part of the feeling is that you've done it, but I remember, specifically, the feeling at the finish line of relief because it

takes a long time to put together a program and put the boat together and race around the world and you race around the world. And you're exhausted.

You pushed as hard as you can.

For me, it was just over 71 days. And you get to finish line and you're just relieved. And then, when the team came onboard, that's when it really

became real.

AMANPOUR: And do you feel a little bit of pride that you did this as a woman?

MACARTHUR: To me, that was never really an element of it. I raced in a world where men and women competed together. I never really thought about

it. I did many races before that record.

So, when you raced solo boats around the world or trans-Atlantic race is you raced around guys. That was just how it was.

AMANPOUR: Right. So, you had a pretty extraordinary experience because there's never any gender disparity. That's really interesting.

MACARTHUR: And I've raced many times with men. In fact, all of the 200 trans-Atlantics I've done have been with men, just the two us on the boat.

So, for me, it was completely normal.

AMANPOUR: So, how did you go from the boat and all your amazing first and your amazing experiences essentially to this, to editing this edition with

the National Geographic "Planet or Plastic". It is a remarkable and dramatic depiction of the threat to our planet, showing plastic as sort of

the tip of the iceberg. Is it the sailing that brought you to that?

MACARTHUR: Well, first of all, I never thought I would ever leave sailing. I thought I'd be sailing forever. I wanted to sail around the world from

the age of 4.

But when you set foot on a boat for a journey that takes you around the world, you put everything on that boat that you need for your survival.

That's food, that's fuel, that's the basics you need to get you around the world.

And when you're out there, you manage them. And what I developed on that trip, particularly the second, was this overwhelming understanding of what

finite meant, what it was to have finite resources.

And it was that led me to the circular economy and the work around plastics, in that if we have finite resources available to us in our global

economy and we're using them up, that can't work. It can't work for the future of us. The economy doesn't function in the long term.

AMANPOUR: So, what is the circular economy? It's the first time I have heard about it.

MACARTHUR: So, our current economy is predominantly linear. We take a material out of the ground, we make something out of it, could be a plastic

bag or a car or a mountain of clothing, and then at the end of the use of that item, it gets thrown away.

A part of that gets recycled. Some of the content is bought back, but the majority isn't. Hence, it's linear. And our strategy for trying to fix

that was to take a bit less material to make it into something a bit more efficiently and really that just slowed down the way we used the materials,

but we're still using them up because it's a linear system.

With a circular economy, you turn that on its head. So, from the outset, you design the economy, so that the products and the materials flow, so

they're designed to be able to recover the materials when you make a product. You design a system that recovers the product, so you'd get the

materials back.

Effectively, you design that waste and pollution, you keep products and materials in use at their highest value for as long as possible and you

regenerate natural systems.

AMANPOUR: You have certain solutions where basically you say consumers also have to play their part. For instance, if you go into a restaurant,

say no straw please. If you go to plastic bag or if you go to a supermarket, keep taking your own bag, don't keep taking the plastic bags

from the supermarket.

MACARTHUR: There's definitely an element for the consumer or we prefer to call them users in a circular economy because I hope I don't consume a

plastic bag. The user, there is absolutely a part for.

But what we're trying to do at the foundation is to change the system, so that when we buy a plastic, which sits around a piece of food, it's been

designed to be compostable, recyclable or reusable.

At the moment, it's not. The majority actually isn't. It's not designed to be recycled. Even if we want to do the right thing, as a consumer, we

can't because it doesn't fit within the system.

AMANPOUR: There's this horrible picture that's - I mean, it is actually fascinating. It's a sea horse, baby sea horse, it's got its tail wrapped

around an earbud, a plastic earbud.

[14:20:00] And we hear like the prime minister of Great Britain and other leaders talk about banning earbuds, banning straws, trying to be more

disciplined about the use of plastic bottles.

But I've also been told that it's the soft plastic, it's like the clingfilm, the Saran wrap that's actually the most dangerous thing, I

think, because it gets into the system, right, into the sea animals and then into us.

MACARTHUR: I think the challenges with a thin film are that they're incredibly hard to capture, they're tiny. You tear this - a corner of a

sachet off, it's likely to blow away. I mean, how can you guarantee that goes within a bin.

So, those single-use, those kind of quickly consumed, like the earbud, that will last forever. We don't need it forever. We need it for a few minutes

to do the job and then that needs to be designed to fit within a system. And in that case, it would likely to be compostable.

AMANPOUR: Tell me some of the stats. I know that you've got them tripping off your fingertips. I mean, it is pretty awful, isn't it, the amount of

plastic that ends up in the oceans? It's like a giant dumping ground.

MACARTHUR: And, really, it was never done on purpose. Nobody said, let's dump this in the ocean. It's just that we have 7 to 8 million tons of

plastic packaging a year - and that's just packaging, that's not all plastics.

Eight million tons of that ends up in the ocean. And it can't be ingested by the ocean. It can't be digested by the ocean. It just ends up sitting

there and it's a huge problem.

AMANPOUR: We've got this on beaches. And we've got another picture which shows them floating in the seas, something like apparently 5 trillion

pieces of plastic already floating in our oceans, and it can take 450 years for some of this plastic to decompose.

MACARTHUR: I mean, it's there for a very, very long time. And of that 7 to 8 million tons, 2 percent gets recycled into the same quality material,

32 percent of all plastic packaging leaks out into the environment and, ultimately, that ends up in the ocean because the rivers lead to the


AMANPOUR: What did you see when you were sailing? Did you see plastics? I mean, did you run into these famous islands of plastic that seemed to

have gathered in areas of the Pacific, for instance?

MACARTHUR: Well, actually, I've raced down the Atlantic, round the southern ocean and back up the Atlantic. So, I saw very little at sea

actually. The southern ocean is a very, very big ocean. I have no doubt there was plastic down there. We know for sure.

But it's not where it tends to aggregate. It tends to aggregate in the Pacific with the big gyres and that's where we see these horrendous images

and where a lot of the sea life really does suffer.

But it's probably flowed through the southern ocean to get there. It could have gone underneath the tip of America or New Zealand or Australia.

AMANPOUR: And we have a - well, here we go again. Again, plastics is a livelihood, isn't it, for so many poor people around the world.

MACARTHUR: And when you see that image, you see people collecting what they can of value. And when you look at what's around them, what's around

them, the majority, has absolutely no value.

So, it's not worth collecting. So, it stays there. And we're trying to turn on its head is exactly that image. So, any plastic, if it ever were

to leak would have value, therefore, has a value to collecting it. It wouldn't up in a river because it has a value.

AMANPOUR: We just saw the G7. The prime minister of Norway had told me that they had the oceans and plastics brief for this G7. And, of course,

it matters a lot to them because they have a very ocean border dominated economy.

And yet, the United States didn't sign on to any agreement nor did Japan when it came to plastics and trying to mitigate the effect.

I mean, what's the hope if they all don't get around the table and actually agree to try to do what governments can or should?

MACARTHUR: I think governments have a very important role to play here, but so do the companies. The companies didn't set out to have their items

in the ocean or getting lost on the hedges for 450 years. They set out to provide packaging for their product. Now, what we've seen is a huge, huge

energy from those organizations to actually try to fix this.

Now, what's different, I think, with the plastics space is it's very, very high-volume, very low value and they can't do it on their own. Even the

biggest company in the world, they can't fix this on their own. Coke, Pepsi, Wal-Mart, Unilever, Nestle, they can't do it.

They need to collect together to agree on a direction that everyone innovates around. That make it a lot easier then for the government to get

behind that vision because the companies are already asking for it. They're trying to change that system.

AMANPOUR: What do you do in your life to be a plastic neutral?

MACARTHUR: When you buy your food from a supermarket, even if you're conscious - I'm superconscious - I look at all the plastics. I try and put

everything in the right bin. But, actually, a lot of it - we have no idea where to put it. It says check with local recycler. And if you ring them,

there's no label on it. So, they can't tell you whether it would fit in there. The system doesn't work.

I think my hope in this area and my feeling of feeling - the feeling that there's an opportunity there is to make a system that can work. We can

design a system that works. We can make all plastics recyclable. It's not beyond us. We can innovate and be creative. We're incredibly intelligent

as a human species.

So, let's agree on a direction and then make it happen.

AMANPOUR: I mean, National Geographic, which you've teamed up with in this cause, is a massive US and global franchise and brand. I mean, people know

it and they know what it stands for.

What do you hope joining up, teaming up like this with this very dramatic cover and this full issue on this crisis, what do you hope that this will


[14:25:04] MACARTHUR: What National Geographic had the opportunity to do is to connect with people. Of course, there are the horrific images that

we see, but there's also a solution out there. This is not impossible.

There's an awful lot of cleaning up that needs to be done of what's out there, but if we can stem the flow, if we can change the flow, if we can

make what feeds into that system have value, then it won't get there in the future. And there's where the energy of the National Geographic can really

play a role.

AMANPOUR: And, finally, just personally, because I don't know whether I could ever do anything solo like you did and something so scary, in the

elements, on the oceans. You love the ocean, but were you ever scared?

MACARTHUR: Well, I think - if you say you weren't scared, you'd be lying. There are times out there where your life is very much in danger. But

you're out there to try and break a record. You're out there to sail around the world and it's the most incredible adventure.

And I think, in life, we have scary moments. You can step out almost in front of the car on an everyday day and have a scary moment. It happens.

But I think when you go to sea and you sail around the world, you know you'll have scary moments, but you'll also have absolutely amazing ones.

And when you're surfing 60 foot waves in the southern ocean and the front goes ahead of you and the moon comes out and they're covered in the

sparkles where the moon reflects, it's amazing. You're so lucky to be there.

AMANPOUR: And you want to keep those seas pristine. Dame Ellen MacArthur, thank you so much indeed.

MACARTHUR: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And that is it for our program tonight. And remember, you can always listen to our podcast and see us online at and you can

follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.