LONDON – The death toll resulting from Europe’s paralysis in responding to the influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa continues to rise. Hundreds of thousands of others have suffered unnecessarily. The European Union’s reputation has been battered, despite bold leadership from Germany, Sweden, and the European Commission. Bitter divisions among member states have jeopardized the Schengen Area of borderless travel within the EU. Populists are having a field day.
But the EU’s failure to devise a cohesive response has had another dire, if less commented-upon, consequence: As Europe’s leaders stumble from one inconclusive summit to another, they have handed the rest of the world an excuse for similar inaction. If the EU cannot get its act together to confront a crisis directly affecting its member countries, why should others leap into action?
Let there be no misunderstanding: Europe alone is not responsible for the wellbeing of all the people fleeing persecution in Afghanistan, Eritrea, Syria, and elsewhere. These desperate souls are the collective responsibility of the entire world community, as the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees makes abundantly clear. But the immoral and xenophobic posturing of a handful of EU states has allowed other countries to be bystanders, in turn damaging the global refugee system – of which Europeans have been the main beneficiaries over the past 64 years.
So, regardless of what European leaders decide at their latest summit, it is past time for the international community to act in support of the world’s refugees and others who have been forcibly displaced. A few countries already have stepped up. Brazil has issued thousands of humanitarian visas to Syrians. Venezuela has offered to take in 20,000. But most have been noticeably silent.