Column: The refugee crisis and Europe’s 'moral imperative' consensus

A group of Turkish protesters chant slogans as they hold a demonstration along with Greek protesters in front of Ipsala border gate with Greece, in Turkey’s northwestern province of Edirne, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016. (Emrah Gurel/AP)

About a month ago, I returned back home to the “States” after a semester abroad in the UConn in London program. As someone who was born, raised, and has attended public schools here in Connecticut her entire life, I was looking forward to a more international view and perspective-check through studying and living abroad for three months.

One of the most fascinating parts for me was comparing and contrasting coverage of current events with my friends back home – most in need of discussion was the coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis.

The Syrian refugee crisis is inarguably the worst refugee crisis that has been seen since World War II; the most recent United Nations Refugee Agency report estimates 4,603,363 persons of concern – which to put in perspective is over one million more than the state population of Connecticut.

One of the most striking differences when thinking about the crisis from an American versus European perspective is that it is incredibly more visible and immediate. The mere logistics of it demand more attention and action. Even during just the three months from September to December, the amount of refugees I would see living on the streets or outside the subway stations had noticeably increased.

It was all the more striking when traveling to mainland Europe. Our train through the Chunnel (an underground tunnel between England and Calais, France) was once delayed two hours because a refugee attempting to jump over the tracks had been run over, which I was horrified to learn had now become a routine problem. 

This past Saturday, that port of Calais, France was put in lockdown after 50 migrants were able to force themselves onto a ferry heading from Britain, before being blasted with water cannon hoses. The images are graphic. Upon touring the aftermath of the Calais area, leader of the Labour opposition party Jeremy Corbyn called for an increase in the numbers of refugees Britain accepts.

Corbyn told the Daily Mail: “Germany is taking several hundred thousand people and I think we should have been part of the European programme from the very beginning in 2013. We are a big country but we can’t solve the problem on our own – no country can. Together we have got to do a lot better than this. This is a disgrace. It’s disgraceful this camp”  

Strong pro-refugee rhetoric dominates many of the UK parliament debates. However, most worthy of notice and admiration is the cross-party consensus that there is a moral obligation of the United Kingdom to support these Syrian refugees. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has repeatedly stated that there is a “moral imperative” to help those escaping the horrors of ISIS and seeking to make a better life for themselves and their families, telling The Guardian even back in September that Britain’s EU partners should match the £1 billion in aid they have given to improve conditions in refugee camps.

Cameron and other Conservatives believe that better funding refugee camps will help slow the flow of migrants, whereas members of the Labour party argue money and efforts would better be directed in bolstering relocation programs. However, nonetheless, the general principle of responsibility is the same. 

I often asked myself why this is. Is it because the U.K.’s party politics are less divided or perhaps that they are geographically closer to the issue? That there already is a very high Middle Eastern migrant population in the UK, and the country has seen the positive economic and cultural impact? What role might the European Union and Angela Merkel’s leadership play?

Throughout my time in Europe, it became increasingly clear to me how the aftermath of World War II is still often referred to in mainstream politics. The acceptance of Jewish refugees during World War II has often been cited; “We have to do more,” Corbyn said, “As a matter of urgency… as we did with Jewish Kindertransport children escaping from Nazi tyranny in the 1930s.” 

So hearing responses from Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States to Chris Christie, commonly regarded as a more moderate Republican candidate, tell an interviewer he would not make exceptions for orphans under the age of five is shocking and simply out of touch with the realities of the crisis.

here is reasonable and cross-party consensus that there must be an intensive screening process from Syrian refugees looking to enter the country and be relocated – and there is. National security is and should remain a concern, however the rhetoric does not reflect the reality. According to Time, of the 750,000 refugees resettled in the United States since the September 11th attacks, none, actually zero, have been arrested on domestic terrorism charges.

“Our values are stronger than fear. Slamming the door on refugees isn’t who we are,” said Secretary Hillary Clinton. As the international community continues to debate how to handle this crisis, both from a logistic and humanitarian perspective, we must find a moral consensus and find the true example of American leadership we must show abroad.


Marissa Piccolo is associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marissa.piccolo@uconn.edu. She tweets @marissapiccolo.