The Syrian refugee crisis is a big exam for everyone around the world. And it seems we are all going to fail it.
As a result of the civil war in Syria, the United Nations estimates nearly 7 million people have fled the country. Today, Turkey hosts more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees, and Jordan hosts about 1 million. In addition, about 4 million Syrians have died in the war.
The major question of how to best deal with the flood of refugees is tearing apart the European Union and has been hotly debated in the U.S. presidential race.
The crumbling European Union
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
The European Union formed after World War II, when countries decided to quit being so nationalistic and come together under the “Europe First” umbrella.
That idea worked well for many decades. But in recent years, many European leaders and residents began to forget about “Europe First.” Instead, nationalist voices are being heard as people discuss the economy, their currency and — very passionately — how to handle refugees from Syria and other war-torn countries, including those from North Africa.
Today, it appears that fights over what to do with Syrian refugees might be the final nail in the EU’s coffin.
The countries have not been able to agree on a master policy for immigrants. Most European countries wanted to block the refugees. This failure has caused some countries such as the United Kingdom to consider leaving the EU, which would damage the future of a united Europe.
That would be a big sign of European disengagement from dealing with large issues, such as immigration and world trade issues.
If nations forget the “Europe First” idea, disintegration of the EU is much more likely.
Bitter debate in America
Last year, the U.S. government announced its “open door” policy to Syrian refugees, pledging to admit 10,000 this year.
And how many governors have supported this policy with his or her statements?
Nine. Yes, only nine. Unfortunately, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was not one of them. He signed an executive order forbidding the state from cooperating with the federal government in the resettlement of Syrian refugees.
“We cannot allow an influx of Syrian refugees, without any meaningful security checks, while ISIS is promising to infiltrate the refugee process,” he said. This unjustified statement ignores the facts that many refugees are running away from the Islamic State and that the U.S. government does have in place strong and lengthy security checks.
Alas, Brownback is not alone. According to September 2015 research by the Pew Center, nearly 45 percent of Americans disapprove of taking in Syrian refugees.
Donald Trump’s blatant xenophobia on the issue has helped draw voters to him in the Republican presidential primaries. It’s encouraging that Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic candidate, has not opposed the U.S. policy.
Can rejection of immigrants make America great again? History shows why the answer is “no.”
In the late 19th century, French intellectual Alexis de Tocqueville saw in America a society of immigrants. They had begun a new life, on equal footing. That was the secret of America and a great difference from Europe.
It is still valid today. In Europe, a refugee from the Middle East will still be considered a “foreigner” for years. But in the United States, that refugee soon is known simply as an American.
Every politician should recall this simple truth about immigrants, which President John Kennedy cited in his fascinating book, “A Nation of Immigrants.” He noted that everyone is an immigrant in this country, with the possible exception of American Indians.
As you can see, the U.S. “immigration issue” has long been a topic of debate. No country is an island, especially America. The Syrian refugee crisis is another good reminder of that fact.