Finding Humanity in Europe’s Refugee Crisis
Humanity is defined as the quality or condition of being human and “the quality of being humane; kindness; benevolence.” For those fleeing apocalyptic conditions in Syria and strife elsewhere in the world, the search for humanity has not been easy. The images seen recently on television and the Internet do not begin to capture the magnitude of despair or the scale of this tragedy. According to the United Nations, as of the beginning of 2015 more than 220,000 people had been killed in the Syrian civil war. More recent figures by other organizations put the death toll at upwards of 330,000.
This carnage led to the displacement (both internal and external) of more than 5.5 million people by the middle of 2014, according to U.N. data. By early September of this year, 366,402 refugees had crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, with 244,855 reaching Greece and 115,000 arriving in Italy. A large number are making their way through Europe, with many hoping to reach Germany because of the country’s favorable treatment of refugees.
The humanity of the European Union is being tested by concern over the ability of member states to absorb and assimilate so many newcomers. Security issues also worry many European leaders. Identifying the refugees and checking their backgrounds is proving to be a monumental task, even among those who have passports. There have been numerous reports that the passports of deceased Syrians are being sold to those seeking to flee the country. Moreover, it has been pointed out that the flood of refugees has included a seemingly disproportionate number of young men. Of those coming ashore in Europe, 75 percent have been men and only 13 percent children. According to U.N. data, the historical trend is for about 46 percent of refugees to be children. This has raised a red flag among security officials about the possible infiltration of terrorists into Europe.
Regardless of the concerns and costs, it seems likely that EU members will need to do more to confront this humanitarian problem. Just as Europe was put back on its feet with the Marshall Plan after World War II and millions of refugees resettled, it is now time for Europe to repay in kind. According to German authorities, it cost about 12,500 euros per year to support a refugee. This means that in 2015 as much as 10 billion euros will be spent to feed, house and teach German to the new arrivals. With a government budget of slightly more than 300 billion euros, the citizens of Germany should be able to bear this cost, albeit high. Other EU countries need to do their part and, in addition, must work to solve the protracted problems that threaten to ignite a region-wide war in the Middle East.
The challenge shouldn’t be left to the EU alone. The members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — have done little to accommodate refugees. Officials in the GCC have defended themselves by noting that each member country has given millions of dollars to the U.N. to help those who have been displaced, despite the fact that these countries are not signatories to the 1951 U.N. Treaty on Refugees. Officials in the UAE say that the federation has provided more than $530 million in relief aid.
Nevertheless, it is hard to understand why countries with some of the highest per-capita incomes in the world are unwilling to open their doors to those in need, people who share the dominant religion of GCC countries. If Jordan, with a population of about 6.5 million and GDP per capita of under $5,500, can take in more than 620,000 refugees, then other countries can step up. Jordan, as well as Lebanon, which itself has received nearly 1.2 million refugees (20 percent of its population) are at the breaking point. Europe and the Gulf nations should extend a helping hand for as long as needed.
I would be remiss not to mention the actions of other nations, including the United States. In addition to the more than 1 million legal immigrants that the U.S. allows into the country each year, it also takes in an average of 70,000 refugees from around the world. Moreover, according to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the U.S. contributes more than $570 million to the UNHRC’s refugee budget, or 31 percent of the total aid donated. Also, it has just been announced that at least 10,000 Syrian refugees will be allowed into the country in the next fiscal year.
Other high-income countries have not been as welcoming. As reported by Amnesty International, Russia, Japan, and South Korea have offered no resettlement options for Syrian refugees.
Weighed against the need, the aggregate response of the world’s most powerful and prosperous nations — those best positioned to help — falls short. Not a strong showing for humanity.