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German Chancellor Angela Merkel calls a new plan proposed by the European Union to ease the escalating migrant crisis a “first step.” The proposal, announced earlier today, would require countries in the European Union to more fairly share the burden of accommodating an estimated 120,000 migrants fleeing Syria, Iraq and other war-torn countries. But the crisis continues to escalate. On Tuesday, the United Nation’s refugee agency warned that in the next 10 days, another 40,000 people seeking asylum are expected to arrive in Hungary. We discuss new efforts to help the hundreds of thousands of people making their way to Europe.
- Deborah Ball Italy bureau chief, The Wall Street Journal
- Stephan Richter Publisher and editor-in-chief, The Globalist
- David O'Sullivan E.U ambassador to the U.S.
- Elisa Massimino CEO and president, Human Rights First
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is recovering from a voice treatment. Earlier today, the European Union announced a plan to impose quotas for a more equitable distribution of the tens of thousands of people seeking asylum within its members countries. Analysts say the plan, if adopted, would help ease the crisis, but that far more needs to be done.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me to talk about the dimensions of the challenge and world efforts to respond, Ambassador David O'Sullivan, EU's ambassador to the United States, Stephan Richter of The Globalist and Elisa Massimino of Human Rights First. And joining us by phone from Rome, Deborah Ball of The Wall Street Journal. Welcome to all of you.
AMB. DAVID O'SULLIVANGood to be here.
MS. ELISA MASSIMINOThank you.
MR. STEPHAN RICHTERThank you.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. Our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Ambassador O'Sullivan, earlier today, the European Union announced this new plan to start to address the migrant crisis there. Tell us about it.
O'SULLIVANWell, this is a follow-up to proposals already made in May to deal with the most immediate humanitarian aspects of this crisis in terms of taking the pressure off the countries in the front line, particularly Italy, Greece and now Hungary, who have been faced with very large numbers of migrants. Not large in the global sense of Europe's population, but for them to deal with in the short term and there has been much positive that has happened in these countries.
O'SULLIVANThe Italians, the Greeks have been extremely generous in the way they've housed people, but it's felt that it is necessary to share this burden more equitably across the European Union. So President Juncker today, in his state of the union speech, has proposed a mandatory reallocation of what would now be 160,000 people away from those three front line states towards all of our member states in an effort to reduce the stresses and strains which the front line states are experiencing.
PAGENow, we've seen a great divide in Europe over reaction to what to do about these migrants. What happens next with this plan? What determines whether it goes into effect or not?
O'SULLIVANWell, this will be discussed at a meeting of the council of ministers of the European Union on the 14th of September. And we are hopeful that this agreement will be found and that this will be adopted and will become part of European law. You are right. It is controversial. I think we have to acknowledge that there is a huge outpouring of humanitarian goodwill across Europe, but there are also people who feel somehow threatened by the prospect of limitless waves of migrants coming into Europe.
O'SULLIVANI think they're mistaken. The numbers are actually relatively small compared to what neighboring countries to Syria have had to cope with and I think Europe is well capable of assuming this burden. But we also have to address the political concerns and the domestic political difficulties which some politicians will face in trying to get agreement on this. But we are confident that, at the end of the day, there will be a European agreement on this plan.
PAGEAnd if a member nation decided not to -- refused to accept any migrants, what would happen?
O'SULLIVANWell, first of all, we have to agree the legal texts which makes it compulsory and once that is done, then, of course, everyone is basically accepting to have a legal obligation to take the migrants. There is a provision in this proposal which would allow people temporarily to opt out and in that case, to make a financial contribution to the reception of refugees in other countries. I should, perhaps, make clear that we are, of course, talking about refugees.
O'SULLIVANThis is -- migration is a much bigger problem. This is the immediate humanitarian problem of people who are fleeing from war or civil unrest and who are entitled, under international law, to safe haven in Europe.
PAGEDeborah, while you're there in Italy, one of the nations that's been very affected, and this has been a story that's been all over the TV shows, TV news shows these days, a story that continues to evolve, tell us what's happening there now.
MS. DEBORAH BALLWell, here, I mean, the situation that Italy has been overshadowed a little bit by Greece because the numbers in Greece, rolling into Greece, have been even higher than in Italy. But Italy, the phenomenon, of course, started earlier. It's been going on a full two years here. I think the Italians have pushed very, very hard for this redistribution mechanism because the Italians, of course, and the Greeks are the biggest recipients of the migrants so far.
MS. DEBORAH BALLI mean, the fact is a lot of them walk through Italy, they don't want to stay in Italy. Only about a third or so end up staying, but that still means tens and tens of thousands of people have stayed here and that's caused an enormous amount of political headaches for the government here, policy headaches, clearly, in trying to cope with these people in the meantime as they sort them out. And then, a long term solution for the people who do want to settle, it is the number one political issue.
MS. DEBORAH BALLAnd Italy certainly has become the number one issue in Europe as well now.
PAGEAnd for the Italian on the street, what does that person think? What's your sense of the kind of public mood?
BALLWell, it's divisive. It's extraordinarily divisive as probably you can take a page from the debate on immigration in the US as well. It's not that dissimilar in a lot of ways. I mean, there are a lot of people who -- and certainly the leftist parties advocate reception and welcome and want to find to solutions for it, but the Italian economy has been in pretty dire straits for a good five or six years now. It's one of the worst performing economies in Europe.
BALLThere's very high unemployment. It's more than 12 percent now, 40 percent youth unemployment. And that's certainly -- there's a lot of concern among people who are afraid that the migrants who do settle will compete with them for jobs and for any welfare that the state hands out. Of course, the state doesn't hand out any welfare to migrants or new immigrants here, but there is quite a big cost to the Italians covered in part by the EU as they ambassador can explain, I suppose.
BALLBut there is still a cost to the Italians in dealing with all this. So I think it's extremely divisive and it is the hot button issue here.
PAGEElisa Massimino, tell us about the legal obligation that countries have with these refugees and migrants because there are, I think, both sorts of people involved in this situation.
MASSIMINOSure, sure. Well, after World War II, the global community came together to, in many ways, to set human rights standards and one of those core standards was the right of people in danger to flee. And so there's a corresponding responsibility then. Once someone is a victim of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, social group and are no longer able to exercise their rights in their home country, international law grants them the right to flee and seek protection elsewhere.
MASSIMINOAnd elsewhere has to be -- there is no place called the international community. It has to be in another state. And states who are parties to the treaty, which most states are, are obligated then not to return refugees across a border to face persecution. So they're not obligated to grant asylum, but they cannot turn people away so they have to assess their claims. There must be -- that's why there's so much talk about process, that Ambassador O'Sullivan mentioned.
MASSIMINOThere's got to be an agreement and national laws, European laws to deal with the processing of people and assessing their claims. So people have a right to flee and, obviously, a moral claim on all of us for protection. And this crisis is the biggest refugee crisis that we've seen since World War II, since the events that caused the global community to establish these standards so it is a huge test for all of us, whether we can live up to the promise of those standards.
PAGEStephan Richter, tell us what might be ahead because the situation that we see now is a crisis, but it seems like there may be a lot more to come.
RICHTERI think this is the moment of wonderful enthusiasm and great hopes. Dark realities will turn in very quickly. I spent a couple of weeks in the UK and in Germany just very recently, just came back, and the debate there around family tables with friends and so on is clear, as we just heard, that refugees need to find a home, but it gets very dark right after with Syrians, with Iraqis and so on. Come Iranian intelligence officers, Iraqis intelligence officers, ISIS fighters and so on that are imbedded.
RICHTERThe poorest police people at the borders have nothing to deal with because people arrive without identity cards so they're poking in the dark. There are not registers. There's no app economy, which would really be helpful with some scanners and that they mostly do paperwork. Ultimately, I think, it's very important to recognize that Syria is sort of the happy light there because most Syrians do not, you know, engage heavily in religious affairs.
RICHTERIt's a pretty secular society. Many people are quite well trained, went to university, got professional training so they are integratable. But along with that came along a lot of Iraqis and Afghanis and Afghans and we need to realize that this is where the direct responsibility of this country, the United States, lies because it played the great game. It broke China, so to speak, and its very ill-fated war actions in Afghanistan and Iraq are driving out hundreds of thousands of people which are coming through Greece and other places, never mind sub-Saharan Africa with the birth bomb there.
RICHTERAnd so in Europe, there's a very clear sense that the White House and its spokesmen have mouthed some very warm words, but have really shirked responsibility because a large part of this vector is really made in the USA with a failed US foreign policy that relied too much on war-making and militarization. That is not to say that the Europeans don't have very heavy burdens upon them.
RICHTERMy sister-in-law, for example, does wonderful things with teaching Somalis and (unintelligible) language and in their village, they try a holistic approach and that's very necessary.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk more about the origins of this crisis, but also about the logistics that are needed now to deal with it. And we'll take your calls and questions. You can reach us on our toll-free lines, 1-800-433-8850, or send us an email at email@example.com. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio, Elisa Massimino. She's CEO and president of Human Rights First. And David O'Sullivan, he's the European Union's ambassador to the United States. And Stephan Richter, who is publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist. And joining us by phone from Italy is Deborah Ball. She's the bureau chief there for the Wall Street Journal.
PAGEIn just a few moments, we're going to go to the phones and take some of your calls and questions. But first, Ambassador O'Sullivan, let's talk about, aside from the politics, which I know we're going to talk about during this hour, let's just talk about the logistics. You've got tens of thousands of people arriving, desperate, needy, many of them -- many, we see many people dying as they try to make this dangerous trek. What -- what kind of infrastructure do you have to build to deal with just this immediate crisis?
O'SULLIVANWell, exactly, it is a big challenge for the authorities in each of the frontline countries, particularly Italy, Greece and Hungary at the present time, to manage this unprecedented flow. That's part of the reason why the European Union is recommending a reallocation quota, to take some of that pressure away and to spread this logistical burden more evenly across the European Union. We are also providing financial assistance to the Greek government, to the Italian government, in order to help them create the right conditions for the processing of these applications because, of course, as Elisa's pointed out, in the first instance, we have to meet our international obligations to look at these individual -- and they are individual cases at the end of the day, to decide whether they are entitled to the status of refugee and asylum-seeker or whether they are migrants for other reasons, in which case they will have to return to their country, the country from which they came.
O'SULLIVANSo this -- this does take a certain amount of time. It is a big logistical challenge. And the European Union is providing financial and logistical assistance to our member states to meet this.
PAGEAnd what is the -- should -- explain to us the distinction between a migrant and a refugee.
O'SULLIVANWell, as Elisa was saying, there are international obligations and international definitions of someone who is entitled to asylum because they are fleeing persecution or war in the country from which they come. And if they meet those criteria, then they are officially granted asylum status, and they are entitled to remain in the country and to a minimum amount of support for themselves and their families. And this is, of course, a very important piece of international legislation to which Europe is fully committed and which we intend to respect.
O'SULLIVANBut it is true that the numbers in the short term have rather overwhelmed the system and our ability to cope with it, and that is part of the drama, which we are now trying to address with the proposals this week.
PAGESo you trigger a legal and a moral kind of obligation if you're fleeing persecution. But if someone is very -- has a terrible government, can't get a job in their home country, this does not trigger those obligations. Is that right, Elisa?
MASSIMINOThat's right. That's right. Certainly states are free, countries are free, and many countries want laborers from outside, need them for the economies, but that -- those, those migrants don't -- aren't entitled to the same protections that refugees are entitled to. Obviously they have human rights protections like any other person, but refugees have a special call on states for protection because, under the definition, they're no longer able to exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms in their own countries because of persecution.
RICHTERLook at it from a practical basis. The Germans, for example, have had decades of so-called gastarbeiter, guest workers, mostly from Turkey. A big mistake was made. The assumption was that these people came to return home eventually. Terrible mistake because even in the second and third generation, some of them are not properly integrated. Germany is going to be the major destination of this. You know, currently bad-mouth, just the hegemon and whatever, the ugly Germans, all of a sudden it's the destination country.
RICHTERThe Germans actually have stepped up. The vice chancellor has just said they -- he expects 800,000 this year and for several years to come. Those numbers, which put, you know, perspectives to some of the stuff that the ambassador just said in terms of the numbers that the EU is officially dealing with right now. But in a very practical sense, what needs to happen? These people need to be put into a situation where they can continue their skills, where the kids can get education. Often they've been in camps for three years.
RICHTERWith regard especially to Syrians, I mentioned earlier that quite a few of them are well-trained, you know, one needs to find jobs for them so that they can integrate into society because nothing works better than that. Absent that, there need to programs of language training. You know, there are even modern apps that teach that with smartphones so that you don't need to have hundreds of classrooms and stuff like that. These people are very eager to find a new life.
RICHTERAnd I think the Germans are quite willing to make a bet on that, which is a tremendous leap of faith, no question. It requires housing, but in the German case in particular, I think there's a lot of focus on the Syrians because there is this -- you know, when we talked earlier, at least to the ambassador, about refugees versus migrants, refugees is the one thing, but the rest, to paraphrase Ross Perot, is a gigantic sucking sound. You know, and basically everybody in sub-Saharan Africa, which just, you know, will soon have more population than the entire world hit 30 years ago, you know, everybody there, quite a few people, including in South Africa, once a darling, face an increasingly miserable life. There is no way that all these people can come to Europe.
RICHTERSo I also think that it's going to be hard for Europe not to harden the borders now that Libya has become a sinkhole, where there is no state power, and everybody out of Africa gets through there. What I said earlier about my sister-in-law is the final thing that I think is very important. It is, you know, way beyond the EU what it can do. It is, as the pope said, every church congregation should host a family, and that became very controversial among some very Catholic bishops in Europe and Poland and elsewhere.
RICHTERBut what they do is there's language training, there's sports training, there is child education, there is, you know, traffic direction, food, everything. So it really -- I mean, the famous it takes a village, only if that becomes the second nature of many people in Europe, far beyond, you know, penalties and bureaucratic plans, only if that gets into the heads will this be successful, strictly speaking for the refugees, which at this stage is all that we can hope for resolving because Syria has 22 million people, and one-third of them have no desire but to leave and understandably so because their country is just totally kaput.
MASSIMINOJust to -- I just want to clarify, while it is important to understand this distinction between migrants and refugees, it's very easy to kind of go down a kind of a path where we start to worry about the entire world wants to come to Western Europe or to the United States, when what we're talking about here with the Syrian crisis, people are fleeing because of terribly violence and persecution.
MASSIMINOThese are not largely economic migrants. There might -- you might find a few sprinkled in. There are sadly people who are essentially refugees in orbit, who fled from Iraq, and then they went to Syria, and then they had to flee Syria, or Palestinians. And so there are some folks like that, which is a particularly tragic situation. But we're here today because we're dealing with a situation that was exactly what the United States and the world community sought to prevent after World War II, which is the abandonment of people who have suffered deep, deep persecution and violence in their home countries.
O'SULLIVANJust say I agree with both the last comments. I mean, we have to deal with the immediate refugee crisis, where the numbers are, relatively speaking, small, and it's not possible to say that Europe, the largest and wealthiest economy in the world, is not capable of absorbing these kind of numbers. On the other hand, Stephan is absolutely right. You have to see this in a broader question, the demographics of Europe. We will need migrants. We have a declining population. So we will need a properly ordered and structured system of welcoming migrants in -- over the coming years.
O'SULLIVANBut that is -- it's a separate issue and needs to be looked at in a separate dimension, but in the short term, we're dealing with this immediate refugee crisis.
PAGEDeborah Ball, what -- this EU plan that was announced earlier today, what's your sense of the early reception it's getting in Europe?
BALLWell, I mean, speaking from Italy, which has been banging the drum for a long time for a redistribution mechanism. Clearly the Italians -- I think it really divvies up quite a bit. The Italians and the Greeks clearly are desperate for this sort of -- this sort of mechanism. And the Hungarians obviously just want to see all these people just moved on.
BALLI mean, again, it breaks down along the same lines. As I said, it's very divisive. You know, it has moved a little bit because we're in this sort of we-are-the-world moment, right now, after the child on the Turkish beach, the photos of that and the 70-odd people in the truck. But I have no doubt that, you know, following on the comments of the other guests there that the numbers are just so big.
BALLIt's true that Europe can absorb them for the moment, but there's no reason to think they're going to stop, and the politics are becoming more and more poisonous that I think we'll see very, very quickly that this moment of solidarity is going to start to break down. I mean, for instance, I mean, the 160,000 that are in the plan now, I mean, Amnesty International just sent out a press release saying they think should be at least twice that. The Germans also think it should be far more.
BALLI know, I mean, in Italy we're -- we have Libya on our doorstep, which is only a couple hundred miles from the southernmost tip of Italy, and Libya is an open door from Africa, leaving aside the Greek islands and Turkey. And the -- I think -- I see the governments, even the ones who are -- have expressed most solidarity, on the back foot, I think the Germans are a major exception to this, and it is an extraordinary show of leadership on the part of Chancellor Merkel to have taken on this leadership in a way that she hasn't on some other issues, for instance in Europe, would it be -- and she has the shoulders, you know, the strength in Germany to hold off the anti-immigrant sentiment.
BALLBut I would wonder. I think other countries don't have that political stability or strength to combat that, what's going to happen, and I wonder how long the Germans can also hold out themselves.
PAGEAmbassador O'Sullivan, are you concerned that this debate, which is already divisive and is likely to continue to be that, could threaten the whole idea of open borders across the European Union?
O'SULLIVANNo, I don't think so because really we should not conflate the issue of refugees and asylum with the issue of free movement across Europe. Refugees and asylum-seekers do not have a guarantee of free movement across the European Union. It's our external frontiers that are at issue here and not our internal frontiers. So I think that is not going to be the big problem. But I absolutely agree that we are going to have a political difficulty of selling this and explaining to our population why on the one hand we have to do this, why it is manageable and why people should not feel threatened by it.
O'SULLIVANAnd this, in Europe I'm afraid, decisions are always messy, and people always start with the negative and what they don't like. But watch out, we always tend to agree in the end, and I'm certain that on this issue also we will find a way forward.
PAGEYou know, in American, decision-making is usually pretty messy, too, so not just in Europe.
O'SULLIVANI'll grant you that, but I couldn't have said it.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. We're taking your calls, 800-433-8850. Let's take a call. Let's go to Pittsburgh and talk to Carlanna. Hi, you're on the air.
CARLANNAHi. I'm calling to point out that the media, 99 percent of the media, never mentions the fact that the United States government in one way or another was involved in this -- starting this problem, whether you're talking about refugees from Afghanistan or Iraq or Syria or Libya and possibly in the future the Ukraine. The United States government, in one way or another, has been involved in instigating and promoting what has turned out to be civil wars in all these places.
CARLANNAAnd if we were to take our fair share, having started these problems in the first place, the number that the United States would have to take, if we took our fair share, would be something in the neighborhood of four to five million, million refugees because there's that many refugees rattling around in other countries that have tried to escape Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. And so the media ignores it, though, as if we didn't have anything to do with anything. We're -- the reporters report on what European countries are doing and don't say a word about the fair number that would be brought into the United States, which I would believe would be four to five million, at least.
PAGEThanks so much for your call. I'll note that reporters actually pressed the White House press secretary at length in recent days, including yesterday, about what the United States is going to do or ought to do or is thinking about doing. Elisa, why should Americans -- should Americans feel an obligation here?
MASSIMINOWell, I think absolutely we should, and many Americans do, as the caller just exhibited. I think it may be a bit of an overstatement, the numbers, four million, but certainly, you know, there are a number of reasons why the United States should and does care about refugee protection. First of all, you know, we are a nation that was founded by refugees. The idea of looking for safe haven and protection from persecution is what gave birth to this country.
MASSIMINOSo it's in our DNA. But as the caller pointed out, it's quite true that, you know, many of the decisions that American government, administrations, have made have led to some of these refugee crises. You know, the decision not to intervene in Syria to help the Syrian people get rid of a brutal dictatorship, whatever you think about that decision, it does -- the decision not to do that has moral consequences. And one of the moral consequences is the desperation of people who need to flee.
MASSIMINOSo there's that reason. Also, you know, the United States has always been a global leader on refugee protection, and I wouldn't want there to be an impression that the United States hasn't done quite a lot in terms of accepting refugees from around the world. The US usually takes about 50 percent of the total number of refugees who need to be resettled through the UN Refugee Agency. With the Syria crisis alone, the US has given $4 billion.
MASSIMINOOf course there's a lot more that it needs to do, and we can talk about what the US should be doing, but there's also a national security interest in making sure that this crisis gets resolved. The US has a deep security interest in the stability of the region, of the Middle East, and the refugee situation, particularly in neighboring countries, Jordan, largely, is creating a huge instability and a generational problem for stability in that region, and that has an impact on the United States from a national security perspective.
RICHTERI think that was, with all due respect, a too-rosy picture. You can take any Uber ride to the airport, and you will bump into an Afghan translator who will tell you that most of his friends who were translators to US troops didn't make it through. I took one on my recent flight, and his best buddy, who was a translator, was killed by a recent bomb in Kabul.
RICHTERDonald Trump is a reality. Things are changing vastly. The key point here is this. Four billion dollars is a pittance. The Germans are considering that it's going to be $50 billion per year just for the Syrians, basically. You know, that soon adds up because it's not the only issue. The Eurozone crisis needs to be resolved, infrastructure issues, all of -- everybody has the same thing. So in some sense the US is getting away a little cheap.
RICHTERThe key problem that really disturbs me is I was also in the lounge at the airport recently when I asked one of the key operators of this town, a former big Reagan administration figure, about all these issues, about Iran, Iraq, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia and these countries. He said, I love all these conflicts. The Saudi princes, the Gulf princes, are storming our doors, asking for our aid, politically, to get coverage to buy more weapons, a billion here with King Salman's visit and so on.
RICHTERYou know, there is a deep cynicism here, and the US kind of trophying up with Erdogan, who destroys the Kurds, presumably because he's giving aid to ISIS, that is a big shambles of a foreign policy in this town.
PAGEWe're going to take another short break, and when we come back, we're continuing our conversation about the situation in Europe and what the US and other nations, including the European Union, are going to do about it. And we'll go back to the phones. We'll take some of your calls and questions. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking about the migrant crisis, the refugee crisis, in Europe. Joining us from Italy is Deborah Ball. She's the Wall Street Journal's bureau chief there. Here in the studio with me, Elisa Massimino, CEO and president of Human Rights First, David O'Sullivan, he's the European Union's ambassador to the United States, and Stephan Richter, who is publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist.
PAGEWe've been taking some of your calls. Let's go back to the phones. We'll talk to Thelma, who's calling us from McLean, Virginia. Thelma, thanks for holding on.
THELMAThank you, thanks for taking my call. I have a few quick questions for the panel. I wanted to make a point that I think a lot of people are saying that more of the Gulf states should take refugees, like Saudi, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, mainly because the refugees are Muslim and Arab. And even though Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and overpopulated Egypt have taken a big share of refugees, it doesn't seem like the Gulf has really helped out in this crisis.
PAGEThelma, that's a great question. Let me ask our panel. How much of the Gulf states been doing?
RICHTERVery little, next to nothing. We can't forget that this is a big Shiite-Sunni game going on in Syria and everywhere, where Iran plays against Saudi Arabia, and Turkey has its hands in there and so on, and it is a very cynical game. In discussions in Europe, even at the family table, I'm not talking big policy TV shows and so on, people are completely aware of the cynicism, especially of the Saudis, who are creating ISIS to a large extent, which then grab US weapons that are lying around in Iraq, and the Saudis wash their hands in innocence in a shocking manner, and it is not to say too much that they're actually using this as a concept to export their religion.
RICHTERThey will not allow a single Christian or a single Christian church or anything, but the imams that they fund that are radical, the UK can sing dark songs about what's been happening, you know, the girls that then eventually went to ISIS and so on, the Saudi role is the most cynical of all this, and the Gulf little states, they are little underlings, princelings, you know, that aren't heavy-hitters.
RICHTERBut it is a shameful record to talk about the Ummah, which is the community of all Muslims, which is the biggest talk in Islam, and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states do exactly zilch, nada, nothing.
PAGEElisa, you're nodding your head. What would you hope the Gulf states would do, and Saudi Arabia?
MASSIMINOWell, you know, we've talked about this is -- this is the largest global refugee crisis since World War II. And it requires a comprehensive global initiative. It won't be solved piecemeal by the United States bumping up its numbers a little bit, the Europeans talking for another year about how they're going to deal with this and the rest of the world staying silent.
MASSIMINOOne of the things I'm hoping that the United States will do is step up and offer to lead a comprehensive global effort, and that must involve pressure on the Saudis. I completely agree with Stephan about the cynicism with which the Saudis and the Gulf states have approached this conflict, and in many ways are our so-called partners in countering violent extremism are fomenting violent extremism, which is causing these conflicts.
PAGEThelma, thanks so much for your call. Ambassador, what would you like to see the United States do?
O'SULLIVANWell, I think the first point is, as Elisa has said, this is a global problem. I mean, we should not forget the pressure on Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, who have done a huge amount and have had to bear the brunt of this. By the way, the EU has been one of the biggest donors of humanitarian assistance to those crisis. So I think yes, we do need a broader international response, both in terms of addressing the origins of the problem, so trying to fix the situation in Syria, trying to fix the situation in Libya, and there we have worked very closely with the United States.
O'SULLIVANBut these are not simple problems, and it's not going to be easy to fix these problems overnight. But we do need, in the medium term, to find a fix, to have a more stable Syria so that people can actually go back and build lives for themselves there, to have in Libya a functioning government that it is not a massive transit railway station for migrants falling into the hands of smugglers.
O'SULLIVANSo yes, there is a very broad international dimension, and the United States will certainly have an important role to play in that, too. But if I may, I mean, I think we need to be very careful not to bring the religious element to the fore here. President Juncker said very clearly today in his speech that we -- you know, for refugees and asylum-seekers, religion, beliefs are not an issue and should not be an issue. And I think we have to be very, very careful not to turn this into a sort of Christian-Muslim discussion because that would be extremely unhelpful.
O'SULLIVANAnd we will have to embrace all of the refugees, wherever they come from, whatever their beliefs. But I don't disagree that we need a conversation also involving the Gulf states, involving Saudi Arabia and the broader international community as to how we address this issue in the more medium term.
PAGEAnd the United States is taking only 1,500 Syrian refugees in a year. There's a cap. Should that cap be raised, Elisa, and if so, to what kind of number should the United States be prepared to take?
MASSIMINOYes, well, so as you may know, back in May there were about 14 senators who wrote to the president, asking -- making the argument that we should be taking 65,000 Syrians alone in the coming fiscal year. We are -- Human Rights First is advocating that the United States increase the refugee ceiling for fiscal year 2016 to 200,000 so as to allow for resettlement of at least 100,000 Syrian refugees during the next fiscal year. I think that would demonstrate a serious commitment on the part of the United States, as well as the opportunity to lead by example, which it has not done.
PAGEOf course, immigration's been a very difficult issue in this country, as it has been in Europe, and I wonder what you think the political climate is for taking a step like that.
MASSIMINOWell, you know, it is always fraught, and we have -- you know, the United States has, almost since the beginning of the country, had a very ambivalent feelings towards immigration, sometimes welcoming it, sometimes shutting it down, certainly a history of racism in our immigration policy. But in the current political climate, you do tend to see more bipartisan agreement around the protection of refugees in particular than the broader immigration question about how many should we let in and of what kind and how should they be able to work and where. And that's a legitimate and complicated debate for our country to have.
MASSIMINOBut around refugee protection, which refugees really are involuntary migrants, if you will, they are forced to flee because of the desperate situation in which they find themselves, there I think with presidential leadership, and that's something that is sorely needed here, we have the capacity financially and we have the nonprofit capacity to resettle far, far more refugees than we have, and we should be doing that.
MASSIMINOBut we need the president to say that, and an ideal timeframe to do that would be next week, when the pope is here.
PAGEDo you think he will?
MASSIMINOWell, we're certainly hoping and pressing and asking, as are many, many other organizations and Americans who care about what the United States stands for.
PAGEAnd Deborah, you're there near where the pope lives. Do you expect the pope to speak out on this issue when he comes to the United States?
BALLHe absolutely will. This is -- migration has been one of his major points since he took -- he was elected. His first trip outside Rome was to Lampedusa, to the island where a lot of the migrants arrived or used to arrive in -- from Libya. And of course, immigration, as well, more broadly -- he's Latin American. He feels these issues are very, very close to his heart. He speaks out a lot about them.
BALLWhen he comes next week, or on the 21st I think he lands in the US, we already know that it is part of his agenda. A number of occasions -- he's meant to speak about this.
PAGEWell, that will be an interesting part of the political dynamic here, and in Europe, too. You know, we're getting -- we're hearing different things from the Americans who are listening to our show. Here's an email from Ken, who says, who is going to pay to house, feed and clothe all these people? I for one don't think it should fall on the backs of American taxpayers.
PAGEBut we also have an email from David, who writes us. I and some friends would like to sponsor a Syrian refugee family. We are committed to providing housing, food, medical care, whatever else is needed to help establish themselves here in the Cincinnati area. My question is, is that possible? Does the current state of politics even allow us to bring someone over so they could become established here? How do we get started? Elisa, do you have any advice?
MASSIMINOWell, that's a wonderful sentiment and part of, I think, what makes this country great. It's the best of the American spirit, is welcoming the stranger. There are a number of organizations that contract with the US government to resettle refugees that the State Department has put through a process of interviewing to be resettled to the United States.
MASSIMINOSo I would recommend to the caller, and anyone who's listening who's interested in helping in a very concrete way, financially to donate to organizations that assist and resettle refugees and work on these policies. Contact those organizations, and they exist in almost every state and locality, and church, synagogue, mosque and make that offer because those agencies contract with the US government and will have refugees who can -- who need a community in which to resettle.
PAGEDavid, good luck to you in that effort. Stephan?
RICHTERWe -- there's a danger of this -- of Syria turning into a bake sale, feel-good stuff. Syria is a serious problem. I think the Germans are saying we're going to take the lead on this, we'll do the rest with Europe, to a large extent. The responsibility of the United States is that it broke Iraq and Afghanistan. It took it upon itself. It should do much more on that front. There is a lot to be done.
RICHTERThere is a lot of truth-telling in the United States to be done, as well. We always pride ourselves of having so many Arab citizens here. Mark the word Arab. We don't say Muslims because the United States is highly selective in its policy, talk about the ambassador's Christian-Muslim divide, to take a lot of Lebanese and so on, who are all Christian, wonderful doctors and so on, you know, from all over. I think I've seen figures that way more than half, 80 percent or so, of the Arabs in the United States are of Christian origin.
RICHTERSo we have a lot to do on this front, and we have a lot to do also with Turkey, which we talked about earlier, where the prime minister is trying to have a reasonable debate, including publishing articles in Germany about let's not make this a religious issue and his president, the former minister, doing everything but. He is making it a totally religious issue. He's, you know, goading everybody. If you don't take all the Muslims, you are just the antichrist personified or something like that.
RICHTERIt is dirty politics in Turkey, which is a very important country. It tried to have this neo-Ottoman responsibility of reordering the nation next to the United States, and it's not happening unless we talk truth to the Turks, which are still more reasonable than the Saudis.
PAGEAmbassador O'Sullivan, what do you think about that?
O'SULLIVANWell, I think that we need to create conditions in which people can be properly received. And I emphasize religion cannot be a factor. You know, I'm Irish and of Catholic origin. Sometimes Catholics weren't very welcome in this country. I can remember signs in London in the 1950s saying blacks, Irish and dogs not allowed.
O'SULLIVANSo, you know, you have to -- we've come a long way. We know there are some of these bad instincts out there, and the two emails you've got reflect a bit that, the generosity but the nervousness of what it might cost in terms of tax dollars. The political process has to find a way through this, which delivers the right answer, which has to be a progressive, forward-looking, welcoming one for all the reasons we've discussed.
PAGEAnd, you know, I think no one would disagree with you, Stephan, that we need to do something to deal with this situation in Syria, in Libya, in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it seems as though you have this immediate crisis that demands you to address it more immediately, even as you think about the long-term political needs.
O'SULLIVANIf it weren't that the United States still has an unemployment crisis, an education crisis, young people finishing very pricey colleges not getting to jobs, and that happening everywhere, in Spain, in Germany and so on, it would be a different matter. But we have to do multi-crisis management, and this is far from the only show that we need to deal with.
PAGEThat's certainly true. I'm Susan Page, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Here's an emailer who says -- Charles, who's writing us from Houston. He says, isn't the UK approach the best way of dealing with the migrants? They have stated a policy to only help those already in the refugee camps in the region, in Turkey and Jordan and elsewhere, and to resettle them. Does that make sense to you, Ambassador? Is that a smart approach?
O'SULLIVANWell, I think, as Stephan just said, this is multi-dimensional, and you have to walk and chew gum. You have to, on the one hand, deal with the situation of people in the camps and consider the possibility of processing there. But you have to understand that that's a vast project because you're talking about millions of people. At the same time, you have to address the issue of people who turn up on your frontiers.
O'SULLIVANI mean, this is -- and as President Juncker said today, put yourself in the position of a family despairing, with no hope. There's no fence you won't climb, there's no sea you won't try to cross, there's amount of money you won't pay to try and make your family safe. And we have to provide a means for dealing with also with that. So I don't think it's either-or. I think you can possibly do both. But one -- the processing in the camps is not going to exempt us from the enormous responsibility of correctly treating the people who turn up on our shores.
MASSIMINOAbsolutely, and don't forget the legal obligation, of course, of dealing with the people who arrive on their shores. But these things -- these two things are connected because, you know, the United States and all countries, I think, were very, very slow to recognize the crisis in the region and the growing desperation of people in the camps. One of the reasons why we are seeing so many people now flooding the gates, if you will, into Europe is because there was a sense of complete desperation and dwindling resources in the refugee camps in the neighboring countries.
MASSIMINOSo the food aid is way below what UNHRC has said is necessary. It's a completely desperate situation. And that's part of why we now have the crisis that we're talking about today.
PAGEAnd of course it's a difficult one for the whole world to address. And I wonder, Elisa, you deal with these issues all the time. How much difference did it make, the power of that one photo last week that showed Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy, lying on a beach, as though he were taking a nap?
MASSIMINOOh, just extraordinary, and it made a huge difference in terms of taking these huge numbers and global headlines about migrants, which doesn't even sound like a human being, and putting the face of sweet three-year-old on that crisis. It made an enormous difference, as we're seeing now, with bringing together the huge policy challenge with the feeling of people around the world that we have to -- they can put themselves in that situation. They can look at that picture and say that could be my child, that family could be me.
PAGEThat made a difference here in this country. Did the photo make a difference in Europe, Ambassador?
O'SULLIVANYes, I think it did and other very disturbing scenes, the people found dead in the trucks in Austria, the very horrible scenes of people crawling over and under barbed-wire fences with young children. This has moved people. But I also agree, I think it was Deborah who said, you know, we have to -- this will last for a very short period of time. You need a rather more solid political response and understanding of what's involved here in order to address this country, and thankfully I think that is beginning to emerge.
PAGEI suspect this will not be the last time we do a Diane Rehm Show on this topic. Let me thank the people for being on our panel this morning. David O'Sullivan, the ambassador from the United States, Stephan Richter of The Globalist, Elisa Massimino from Human Rights First, and joining us from Italy, Deborah Ball of the Wall Street Journal. Thank you all.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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