That lady holding up the beckoning torch at the entrance of New York harbor symbolizes America’s pride in being the most welcoming of people who seek freedom.
But a funny thing’s been happening on the way to that freedom. Newcomers are rushing not to the United States, but to Germany. Germany? Seriously? Well, not that Germany. This Germany. If you’re not inclined toward optimism regarding the probabilities of improving human behavior, you may have overlooked Germany.
In contrast, it seems our nation’s pledge to welcome “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free” is being read as false advertising. Last year, 626,000 refugees applied for asylum in Europe. Only 134,600 bothered to apply to the United States.
So much for our celebrated narrative that everyone is beating down the doors to get to America. Was it something we said? Hello?
After four years of war in Syria, we’ve accepted 1,500 Syrian refugees. Shamed into it, the Obama administration recently announced that the United States this year will accept 15,000 more refugees, mostly Syrians, and 30,000 more in 2017. The United States has been accepting a total of 70,000 refugees per year, so that total eventually will rise to 100,000.
But Germany, a nation of 80 million, says it can absorb at least 800,000 refugees, perhaps one million. Aside from Sweden, the rest of Europe is balking. Xenophobia is by no means dead in the new, improved Europe, not even in Germany.
Nearly 400,000 refugees from Africa, Afghanistan and Syria have washed up on the European Union’s Mediterranean shores so far this year. Yet these staggering numbers are small potatoes. Today, 59.5 million human beings are displaced worldwide.
Blame, some of it well earned, is being laid at President Obama’s feet for the Syrian portion of the current human migration debacle. Four million Syrians live in foreign refugee camps; 250,000 have been killed.
Obama publicly threatened Syria’s President Assad, who used chemical weapons on his own citizens. But Obama failed to follow up and bring Assad to heel. He’s still there, thumbing his nose at Obama. Vladimir Putin, eager to keep a Russian toehold in the Middle East, has rushed to Assad’s side under the justification that he’s fighting ISIS terrorists.
How much responsibility for the plight of the Syrian refugees you assign to Obama’s failure to get tough with Assad may depend on what you think we’ve learned from our Middle Eastern misadventures. It’s hard not to notice that deposing one despot seems to open the door for another. And in Syria, something exceptionally bestial is slouching its way to power by trying to oust Assad: ISIS.
ISIS is the latest inhumane scourge blossoming in a profoundly dysfunctional region that’s long been in thrall to theological thuggery and civic rot. These problems are the Middle East’s to solve, not the West’s. But we, alas, made the Middle East’s problems our own the day we signed up for its oil. That selfsame oil now is altering climate and, ironically, promises to trigger ever more human migration to a better address. Clever!
Did Obama’s determination to get Iran — another ally of Syria’s — to agree to stop producing nuclear weapons override his concern for the Syrians? If so, it’s the sort of lesser-of-evils choice that presidents are hired to make. Only time will tell if Obama made the right call in overlooking the humanitarian crisis in Syria today to avoid a much wider one tomorrow from a bellicose, nuclear-armed Iran.
The refugees meanwhile are bypassing nations such as the suddenly unwelcoming socialist paradise of Denmark or less paradisiacal Hungary, where a fence was built with the government’s stated aim of keeping “non-Christians” out. The refugees vastly prefer Germany. But why Germany, with its history of horrific treatment of “The Other”?
Because Chancellor Andrea Merkel invited them to come. And — here the Trump-traumatized mind reels — she bluntly told her fellow citizens to expect that the influx of newcomers will change Germany.
Germany certainly isn’t opening its doors out of altruism only. There’s a quid pro quo: Germany needs young workers if its economy is to remain successful. It’s a time-tested trade-off for nations smart enough to know that newcomers strengthen their countries.
Factoid: The European Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development tracks the economies of 34 nations. It found that in almost all of them, immigration between 1990 and 2000 had a positive effect on wages of native workers, even those with low income.
Still, no one should assume that integrating Muslims into godless Europe will be painless. The results so far have been unimpressive. It’s harder for immigrants to get jobs in Europe than in other rich countries, and it remains harder for their European-born children. France has perhaps the most glaring record of failure in helping newcomers thrive; many of its immigrants remain dangerously stuck in ghettos. Legal status granted to Muslim women throughout Europe has caused the most intense conflicts.
This European effort to absorb a massive number of “aliens” bears watching. Why? Because the United Nations now says Earth’s population will reach nearly 10 billion in 2050 and 11 billion by 2100.
Asked to deal with mass displacement from places where human life becomes unbearable, it seems wealthy nations have two reasonable choices: Either we help fix the problems at their miserable source — think Syria — or we learn how to accommodate lots of newcomers.
An immigrant from Norway, Solveig Torvik lives in Winthrop.
Solveig Torvik lives in Winthrop.