Europe's Loss of Nerve

Now up on the homepage is an article by Madeleine Davies about the refugee crisis in Europe ("A Loss of Nerve"). As Davies points out, the real crisis began long before the refugees reached Europe, but it was only then that most European governments seemed to take note.

Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, the UNHCR has been issuing strong warnings that countries like Lebanon—where Syrian refugees now make up a quarter of the population—were buckling under the burden, but few in the West paid attention. It was images of bodies squashed aboard dinghies in the Mediterranean, of refugees shivering around campfires in the Balkans and lying desperate on train tracks in Hungary that finally forced European governments to recognize the magnitude of the crisis. “Unfortunately, only when the poor enter the halls of the rich do the rich notice that the poor exist,” observed [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] António Guterres.

The contrast between the response in Europe—reactive, ill-tempered, and chaotic—and that of the countries bordering Syria ought to be a cause of shame. People in countries like Lebanon and Jordan have been nothing short of heroic in recent years, and they deserve both more credit and more support. Their generosity has come at huge cost. In September, Lebanon’s Prime Minister told the UN that the refugee crisis was costing his country a third of its GDP. Lebanon is not a signatory to the 1951 refugee convention but, despite memories of a thirty-year occupation by Syria and the fact that it already hosts four hundred thousand Palestinian refugees, it opened its borders in 2011. Lebanese communities, including those in the poorest parts of the country, responded quickly, offering the refugees shelter and access to services and support.[...]

Jordan, the fourth-driest country on earth, is hosting six hundred thousand Syrian refugees. Before my visit to the country this year, I read its plan for dealing with the crisis: two hundred pages of detailed projections, followed by a request to the international community for $2,991,736,900—the amount it needs to support the new arrivals and to cope with their impact on the communities hosting them. In contrast with the panic and recriminations that have characterized the response in Europe, this document, with its color-coded charts and neat tables, radiated confidence and optimism.

Read the rest here.

Matthew Boudway is senior editor of Commonweal.

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George Steiner's Europe

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