Europe's Refugee Opportunity

ROME – Europe’s so-called refugee crisis should never have become an emergency. Accommodating one million asylum-seekers should not be a huge challenge for the European Union – an area with 500 million citizens that welcomes more than three million immigrants every year. Unfortunately, the lack of a coordinated response is transforming a manageable problem into an acute political crisis – one that, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel has rightly warned, could destroy the EU.

Most EU member states are selfishly focusing on their own interests. This pits them against one another and has precipitated panic, putting refugees in even greater peril. A smart, comprehensive plan would calm the fears. Instead, Europe has preferred to search for scapegoats – and Greece is the latest to be targeted for blame.

Greece has been accused of not doing enough to process and house refugees. And yet, even if the country were not crippled by economic crisis, it would be unreasonable to expect a single small country to bear the burden alone – especially in a year when more than 800,000 refugees are expected to pass through its territory. This is a European and global problem, not solely a Greek problem.

There is plenty of blame to go around. In Greece, George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, acting in partnership with European Economic Area and Norway Grants, anticipated the problems that the lack of a serious European asylum policy would create. In 2013, the partnership established an organization, Solidarity Now, run by the cream of Greek civil society. Solidarity Now needs just €62 million ($67 million) to care for 15,000 of the 50,000 refugees who need to be housed in Greece next year. And yet, though the EU has promised to spend €500 million to help Greece manage the crisis, some member states have failed to pay their share.