In Miami, where flight and exile are part of the personal experience of so many, the dramatic images of immigrants in Europe desperately seeking refuge are particularly searing. Our identification with those fleeing danger pleads for a humane response to this crisis.
Understandably, European governments were initially stunned by the huge waves of migrants making the perilous trek from Syria, as well as from Libya and North Africa. Germany alone has received more than half a million asylum-seekers this year. Europe at first lacked the means to cope with so many arrivals who needed food and shelter.
Slowly and to their credit, advocates of opening the door widely — led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country seems to be the most desired destination — took a valiant stand. “If Europe fails on the question of refugees, then it won’t be the Europe we wished for,” she said. Last week, Ms. Merkel and President François Hollande of France called for the European Union’s 28 members to accept refugees by quota allocation and for new reception centers in Italy and Greece.
Bravo for them. But some countries — Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic — are being unhelpful. They should rethink their position. Doing nothing is neither right nor practical. Europe’s strength lies in unity. Refusing to take part in a common response makes the problem worse.
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But while Europe is bearing the immediate brunt of the crisis, the blame is widely shared, though not widely acknowledged. Among the most conspicuously negligent are Persian Gulf countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. They all have failed to accept Syrian refugees, even though they are immediate neighbors and ethnic kin.
One way for them to play a useful role, if they cannot take in refugees themselves, is to contribute more — which they can easily afford — to various United Nations programs to aid the victims. Chief among these is the World Food Program, which helps feed refugees in camps in Lebanon and elsewhere in the region. Ensuring that children can go to school while they are stranded in the camps is another urgent need these countries can fulfill — and they should.
And what of the United States? This country is hardly in a position to lecture Europe or anyone else on immigration, not when we’re locked in an embarrassing debate about building unrealistic walls, mass deportations and so forth. And worse yet, the United States is failing in its obligations to do more.
It was the United States, after all, that more than 10 years ago plunged headlong into a regime-change operation in Iraq. Its ultimate consequences include the turmoil in Syria and Libya fueling the migrant crisis. Yet, after four years of civil war, this country has agreed to accept only about 1,500 Syrians — a tiny number compared to the 11.6 million people who have fled the conflict.
The United States has provided some $4 billion in humanitarian aid, more than anyone else, but money alone is not the answer. On Tuesday, the White House said it was considering a “range of approaches,” apparently in response to being called out for an inadequate response.
The security concerns are obvious, but taking in more refugees should certainly be an option. Ultimately, the best solution is finding a way to end the civil war in Syria. The United States can’t do it alone, but it must act with urgency before the wave of refugees becomes even greater.