As a devastating civil war and the spread of the Islamic State displaces nearly half of the people living in Syria, several European nations are scrambling to ease the crisis. France, Germany and Sweden granted asylum to a combined 100,000 refugees in 2014. The United States, however, has accepted only 1,500 of the estimated 4 million Syrian refugees since 2011. For a nation that was built upon immigration—and one that prides itself on international leadership—this is both hypocritical and unacceptable.
The recent media attention surrounding the migration of Syrians has largely been sparked by several disturbing cases in which dozens of refugees have been killed. For instance, 71 were found dead in the back of an abandoned truck in Austria on Aug. 26—a day after 54 people drowned in an attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea. In a similar incident, the bodies of 12 refugees washed up on a Turkish beach on Sept. 2, including 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi.
Naturally, the U.S. has responded to this disaster, as any self-proclaimed international leader would. One would think that the U.S. would make meaningful strides to curb the issue. Surely the U.S. would set an even better example than countries such as Germany, who has valiantly pledged to accept 800,000 refugees this year. But this is not the case.
The White House announced a plan on Thursday Sept. 10 to admit just 10,000 refugees in the upcoming fiscal year beginning on Oct. 1. While this is a dramatic increase for the U.S., it seems incredibly weak considering German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that there is no legal limit for the amount of refugees that can enter Germany.
In response to the meager U.S. pledge, Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley said, "If Germany—a country with one-fourth our population—can accept 800,000 refugees this year, certainly we—the nation of immigrants and refugees—can do more."
Although presidential candidates are quick to criticize, now is an appropriate time to do it. O’Malley’s statement came right after the Obama administration announced a plan to help settle an underwhelming percentage Syrian refugees.
This plan also exhibits a dangerous trend for the U.S. regarding its role in international leadership and conflict resolution. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has asked governments around the world to help resettle 130,000 Syrians over the next two years. According to the BBC News, the U.S. has typically taken half of the number of refugees requested by the UNHCR in previous conflicts. To offer only 10,000 suggests that the U.S.’s global leadership is weakening—a dangerous message to exhibit in today’s world.
Unfortunately, not all of Europe is as willing to assist as Germany is. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was quoted in a German newspaper Saturday Sept. 12 saying that refugees entering the continent should go back to “where they came from.” In the Hungarian city of Roszke—which is near the Serbian border—refugees are held for over 36 hours in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions as they try to make it through lengthy registration lines.
Clearly, while some nations are willing to help stop the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees, some—including the U.S.—are not doing enough. If the U.S. is to uphold its current position in global leadership, its stance on this issue will have to change quickly and dramatically.