USA TODAY US Edition
In refugee crisis, EU under ‘unprecedented pressure’
European Union interior ministers holding an emergency meeting in Brussels agreed Monday to resettle an initial group of 40,000 Syrian refugees, the EU ambassador to the United States said. They’ll need more time to resolve conflicts over a proposal to deal with 120,000 more, then with a flood of migrants that followed.
“The war in Syria has created the greatest humanitarian tragedy probably of our generation,” Ambassador David O’Sullivan said on Capital Download. “This is putting the European system under unprecedented pressure. It’s not surprising that we’ve struggled a little to find what’s the best response, and we’ll probably need a little bit more time to find a way forward.”
The fiercest debate involves a proposal unveiled last week by EU President Jean-Claude Juncker to impose mandatory quotas on all 28 EU members to take a specified number of 120,000 Syrian asylum-seekers, an idea embraced by Germany but rejected by Hungary and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe.
O’Sullivan told USA TODAY’s weekly video newsmaker series that “the good side of the European character” has been demonstrated in Greece, Italy, Germany and elsewhere by providing safe haven for migrants who have made a dangerous journey from war-torn Syria. He said: “We also have to acknowledge that many people are frightened. Many people are worried that somehow this situation (will be) getting out of control.”
In Hungary on Monday, the government completed building a barbed-wire-topped fence along its border with Serbia and announced it would impose criminal penalties on migrants beginning Tuesday.
Germany temporarily imposed immigration checks along its border with Austria. That prompted Austria, Slovakia and the Netherlands to announce they were tightening border controls as well.
O’Sullivan denied that the developments put at risk a borderfree Europe, which, along with the adoption of a single euro currency, has been a foundation of a united continent.
He called the actions “a mo- ment of difficulty through which we are passing.”
“I think we have to acknowledge that people do sometimes feel nervous if they feel there is going to be a large flow of foreigners into their country which might change the nature of their country,” he said.
He offered as reassurance his experience in his home country, Ireland.
“The country I knew growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, there were no foreigners,” he said. “Now I go back to Dublin, there’s 250,000 Poles living in Ireland; there’s 70,000 Latvians; there’s 60,000 Chinese. Ireland has become a wonderful, multiethnic country. These migrants have brought great diversity and contributed to the economic success of Ireland. ... But I understand. We cannot belittle the instincts of those who are worried. I think they need to be reassured that all this can be managed in a correct way.”
He said Europe hasn’t forgotten the lessons of World War II. “In the Holocaust Museum, there’s a very moving description of the attempts of Jews to leave Nazi Germany and not finding a very positive echo anywhere in the world at that time,” he said. “It certainly would be very wrong if we failed the Syrian refugees in the same way.”
“We cannot belittle the instincts of those who are worried. I think they need to be reassured.”