Mil­lions on the move

Our view: Global refugee cri­sis is not a prob­lem world lead­ers can af­ford to ig­nore

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND VOICES -

Around the globe some 60 mil­lion peo­ple are on the move. They pack what be­long­ings they can carry and set off as fam­i­lies or in groups, mak­ing their way as best they can on rick­ety boats, crammed in­side trucks, perched atop trains or on foot. Some seek a bet­ter life, but many are just flee­ing war and con­flict, glad to be alive. Though their lives have been turned up­side down, much of the rest of the world con­tin­ues to look on with in­dif­fer­ence.

That is why we are en­cour­aged by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s call on 45 coun­tries at­tend­ing the open­ing ses­sion of the United Na­tions in NewYork this week to take con­crete ac­tion to ad­dress the hu­man­i­tar­ian catas­tro­phe un­fold­ing on Europe’s south­ern flank, where waves of des­per­ate mi­grants from Syria, North Africa and else­where have been ar­riv­ing on Greek and Ital­ian beaches in re­cent years. Mr. Obama’s ap­peal fol­lowed a U.N. dec­la­ra­tion ap­proved on Monday that aimed to pro­vide a more co­or­di­nated and hu­mane re­sponse to the refugee cri­sis, but that doc­u­ment con­tained few specifics. The pres­i­dent’s plan goes much fur­ther to­ward fill­ing those blanks.

Among the steps Mr. Obama has pro­posed are in­creas­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian aid for the new ar­rivals by $3 bil­lion and dou­bling the num­ber of refugees who are of­fered re­set­tle­ment in Euro­pean Union coun­tries and the U.S. (This year the U.S. took in some 10,000 Syr­ian refugees, but that’s an in­fin­i­tes­i­mal num­ber com­pared to its pop­u­la­tion of 300 mil­lion; by con­trast Ger­many, with a pop­u­la­tion of only 80 mil­lion, has taken in more than 800,000 mi­grants since last year alone. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has pledged to re­set­tle 110,000 Syr­ian refugees next year, but that’s still a pit­tance com­pared to some other coun­tries.) In ad­di­tion, the pres­i­dent wants to in­crease ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion for 1 mil­lion refugee chil­dren and cre­ate a mil­lion more jobs for their par­ents.

“In the eyes of in­no­cent men and women and chil­dren who through no fault of their own have had to flee ev­ery­thing that they know, ev­ery­thing that they love, we have to have the em­pa­thy to see our­selves,” Mr. Obama said in fi­nal ad­dress to the world body. “We have to imag­ine what it would be like for our fam­i­lies, for our chil­dren, if the un­speak­able hap­pened to us.” The pres­i­dent in­sisted the world would be a safer place if the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity reached out to help those in need “even when the pol­i­tics are hard.” In speak­ing of the lat­ter, the pres­i­dent no doubt had in mind the resur­gence of right-wing na­tion­al­ist par­ties in Europe and else­where that have cap­i­tal­ized on a re­vival of xeno­pho­bia and big­otry against for­eign­ers.

Mr. Obama spoke against the back­drop of what has be­come the great­est mass mi­gra­tion since World War II and the largest move­ment of peo­ples in recorded his­tory. They are com­ing not just from Syria but many other coun­tries and re­gions as well, in­clud­ing Afghanistan, Iraq and any of a dozen or so other na­tions in sub-Sa­ha­ran and North Africa. More­over, some ex­perts warn that the mass move­ment may con­tinue or even in­crease, pos­si­bly for years or decades to come, as a con­tin­u­ing legacy of the world’s failed states, in­tractable con­flicts and en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters.

Mr. Obama is right that the world’s lead­ers can’t wish away or ig­nore these de­vel­op­ments. The mi­grants are flee­ing per­se­cu­tion, poverty, eth­nic and re­li­gious strife and war, but these are of­ten only symp­toms of a more pro­found eco­nomic and so­cial up­heaval that threat­ens to over­whelm even the world’s largest and best-equipped wel­fare sys­tems. That is why this his­toric move­ment of refugees from the global south to the global north, and from ru­ral ar­eas to ur­ban cen­ters, is not just a prob­lem for Europe but for the whole world. As the pres­i­dent said to­day , if we can’t imag­ine our­selves in the po­si­tion of the mil­lions of peo­ple who have been driven from their homes by forces be­yond their con­trol, we could even­tu­ally find our­selves shar­ing their fate.

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