At least 137,000 refugees crossed into Europe by sea during the first six months of this year, according to a July UN report, an 83 percent increase over numbers from the same period in 2014. Additionally, more than 3,400 of those traveling to Europe by boat are believed to have drowned or died during the passage. The refugees are fleeing ongoing war in Syria and Iraq, as well as economic hardships in Eritrea, Somalia and Nigeria. Most recently, images of Syrian 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s washed up body have inspired worldwide outrage at European governments’ inability to adequately respond to migrant populations. Photos of Kurdi’s lifeless figure among Turkey’s coastal waves, and of migrants being forced off a train in Hungary, were featured on major news outlets and showed the world that the crisis could no longer be ignored. The EU must cut the rhetorical heel-digging and start earnestly addressing the migrants at their doorstep.
The response from European leaders not only indicates their xenophobia, but also their nearsightedness. “I think we have a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told journalists outside the EU headquarters in Brussels. As an EU and Schengen Area member state, Hungary guarantees free movement of citizens to and from the other 21 Area members. This alarmist rhetoric only ever shows up when non-Europeans seek entry. In addition to Orban’s xenophobic rhetoric, Hungary is also building a barbed wire fence along their border with Serbia to keep out refugees coming through on foot. The crass response to the refugees has not been limited to European governments. Syria’s prosperous Gulf neighbors, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have officially processed exactly zero Syrian refugees who passed through their borders. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel will not take any refugees.
World leaders must acknowledge that these refugees are victims of ongoing crises that have destroyed their livelihoods. The goal is not to assimilate them into a new country and way of life, nor is it to find them a new, permanent home. Rather, it is to get them out of countries such as Syria, Jordan and Eritrea, and remove them from the immediate dangers that they are facing. Refugees need access to Europe and access to the freedoms they deserve.
Given the continued involvement of the U.S. and the U.K. in Middle Eastern countries, the refugee crisis is a global issue, greater than any faced since the Second World War. Germany has pledged to spend over $6 million dollars to take 800,000 refugees. In Iceland, 10,000 citizens offered to take refugees into their homes after the government initially said they would only take 50. These actions show that accepting refugees is entirely within the means of many nations. It is only the unconscionable response of the world community that turns the refugee situation into a crisis.
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