Washington D.C. – ESI in Washington: Discussions on refugee resettlement, creeping authoritarianism, and transatlantic cooperation

1 May 2024
Gerald with Assistant Secretary of State Jim O’Brien
Gerald with Assistant Secretary of State Jim O'Brien, Photo: US State Department

Gerald Knaus attended multiple events in Washington D.C. on the topics of migration, resettlement, Azerbaijan, the Council of Europe, and the potential for transatlantic cooperation on all of the aforementioned issues.

In his first event, Gerald was invited to give join a panel at the Senior Officials Meeting of the Resettlement Diplomacy Network (RDN). The RDN is a multilateral initiative launched in 2023 by the US Government which provides a platform for high-level strategic and diplomatic engagement aimed at strengthening and expanding refugee resettlement and other protection pathways.

At the meeting, Gerald discussed the importance to Europe of increasing the continent’s capacity for the direct resettlement of refugees. In doing so, he noted that Europe could learn from North American, pointing out that the US is the leading state worldwide in the total number of resettlements and Canada is leading state in terms of resettlements per capita. Gerald compared the success of the US and Canada to the failures of Austria, which has one of the highest numbers of accepted asylum claims per capita in Europe, but has been unable to create any legal system to bring those in need of protection into the country.

The next day, Gerald provided a briefing to the National Endowment for Democracy titled “Dysfunctional relationships: Europe, Azerbaijan, and lessons for the future”. In his briefing, Gerald noted ESI’s work exposing the immense, systematic corruption of Azerbaijan in the Council of Europe. He recalled ESI’s research in the 2012 Caviar Diplomacy report on how Azerbaijan bought votes in the Council with fancy gifts, enabling the Aliyev government to jail domestic opposition with international impunity. Despite this scandal being uncovered and consistent media pressure being applied, Gerald noted the continued ongoing influence of Azerbaijan in the Council. In particular, he pointed out the consistent support Azerbaijan has received from Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric despite the recent crackdown by the Aliyev government on domestic opposition.

Yet, Gerald noted, the Russian invasion of Ukraine proved a turning point for the Council of Europe. The invasion forced the Council to acknowledge the failure of its policy of accommodation towards Russia and expelled the country. This empowered good actors on the Council to hold Azerbaijan to its obligations as well, leading to the suspension of the Azerbaijani delegation’s credentials in January 2024. Gerald argued that as the Council selects its next Secretary General in 2024, in its 75th anniversary, it has the chance to advance its commitment to effectively champion human rights in Europe over the next 75 years.

In addition to his scheduled speaking events, Gerald was also able to meet personally with decision makers in Washington. Discussions included the US Assistant Secretary of State and US Assistant Secretary of State Jim O’Brien and the Balkans team of the Atlantic Council. Gerald also gave an interview on the Balkans to the Voice of America.

Video: Voice of America