Commentary, Currents, Society

Europe must help refugees, but America has plenty of room to spare

4 min read

Europe is guided by buffoons, bigots and bumblers. That’s all I can conclude from the refugee crisis. It has taken a photograph of a dead child on a beach, rather than the hundreds of dead children who went before, to rouse the consciousness of the continent.

In Britain, the Labour Party leadership contest has seen a firm promise from Jeremy Corbyn to take “many more” refugees, and head-nodding exercises from the other candidates. For that we should be grateful, for were it not for Corbyn as a balancing force, you can’t guarantee that Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall wouldn’t be tilting towards anti-immigration statements, so malleable are their political “values”.

From the Conservatives… well, they remain stubborn, misleading and cynical. Home Secretary Theresa May recently demonstrated her considerable prowess in avoiding tough conversations or awkward photo opportunities by refusing to meet with any refugees or economic migrants while on her visit to Calais. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond described “migrants” as “marauding”. And Prime Minister David Cameron has referred to “swarms” waiting to cross the channel.

Nearly every British newspaper – even the Daily Mail and the Sun — splashed a photo of that dead Kurdish child washed up on a beach in Turkey. Britain’s prime minister responded by saying, “We have taken some refugees from Syria and this is constantly under review.” He didn’t mention that the number of refugees “taken” is pathetically low.

To be fair, it is a myth that the total number of Syrians offered sanctuary in Britain is a little over two hundred. This is inaccurate; that number relates to a very specific resettlement programme that the British government has set up. The real figure for asylum applications accepted from Syria since the war began in 2011 hovers at around 5,000. That still accounts for just 0.13 per cent of all Syrian refugees, or 0.007 per cent of the population of the United Kingdom. In contrast, Lebanon has taken in roughly a quarter of Syria’s total refugee and displaced population of 8 million.

In Hungary and Slovakia we have “Christian” state leaders who want Europe to remain a “Christian” continent and so won’t take in any but Christian refugees. Perhaps such Pound Shop theologians might care to remember Matthew 25:35 — “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in”; or Isaiah 25:4 — “For You have been a defence for the helpless, A defence for the needy in his distress, A refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat; For the breath of the ruthless is like a rain storm against a wall.” There is nothing “Christian” about only accepting Christians from the Middle East; in fact Hungarian and Slovakian statesmen can pretty much guarantee a rough ride at the Pearly Gates if their love, hope and charity only extends to followers of Christ.

There is an untapped solution to finding room for all these refugees. It lies in the United States. The population density of the United States is just eighty-four people per square mile. The equivalent figure for Britain, Italy and Germany is well over six hundred per square mile. Amongst European countries only Sweden, Norway and Finland have lower population densities than our friends across the Atlantic. Despite this, the United States – the supposed leader of the free world, the protector of peace, the land of promise, the natural home for the aspirant immigrant – has accepted just one thousand Syrian refugees.

This is a similar scenario to events between the 2003 invasion of Iraq and 2007, when Washington eventually capitulated to public outrage and pressure from humanitarian groups and accepted over a hundred thousand more than the thousand to whom the administration had by that point deigned to offer sanctuary.

A lot has changed in the United States since the Second World War, when President Franklin D Roosevelt refused to take in Jewish refugees until 1944, amid rampant anti-Semitism and xenophobia. The US has at several times in its modern history opened its doors in response to various humanitarian crises.

During the Cold War, America accepted half a million refugees from the Soviet Union and Vietnam. In the Nineties it took in well over a hundred thousand from the Balkans. In 2007, it took in a hundred thousand Burmese refugees who had become stranded on the border with Thailand.

Washington is not always so caring. There are currently 2.6 million Afghan refugees. In the last two decades, less than twenty thousand have been offered refuge in the US. Rwanda in 1994 was another unfortunate episode; with 2.3 million people displaced, just 1,500 were taken in by America.

Yet the potential is there. With the right political pressure, the outgoing President Barack Obama, who seems determined to tear up the conventional rule book on foreign policy with his rapprochements with Iran and Cuba, could make history. Even so, European nations still need to step up to the mark as well.

Resource: Middle East Monitor, September 04, 2015

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