Congress expert Norman Ornstein on what the debate over the debt limit says about dysfunction in Congress, and his ideas for how to fix it.
The almost unimaginable flow of migrants into Europe in recent months has posed enormous challenges to the region’s leaders and citizens. Late Sunday European Union leaders agreed to provide temporary shelters for 100,000 migrants by year’s end. Half of the shelters will be in Greece, where nearly 50,000 migrants arrived last week alone. It’s part of a multi-point plan to emerge from the latest EU summit on migrants. But finding consensus on workable solutions has been fraught. We discuss the new E.U. plan with journalists who have witnessed the human dimensions of the crisis first hand.
- David O'Sullivan E.U. ambassador to the U.S.
- Nicholas Schmidle Staff writer, The New Yorker
- Anemona Hartocollis Reporter, The New York Times
- Tom Nuttall Brussels correspondent and Charlemagne columnist for The Economist
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. More than 650,000 people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere have arrived in Europe so far this year. EU leaders struggling to contend with the influx made some progress in a weekend summit. But critics say much more is needed and quickly. Here to talk about the new EU measures and how they might affect the individuals and families seeking refuge in Europe, Nicholas Schmidle of the New Yorker magazine, Anemona Hartocollis joins us from a studio at the New York Times and from a studio in Brussels, Tom Nuttall of The Economist.
MS. DIANE REHMDo join us, 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And thank you all for joining us.
MR. NICHOLAS SCHMIDLEThanks for having me.
MR. TOM NUTTALLThank you.
MS. ANEMONA HARTOCOLLISThank you, Diane.
REHMTom Nuttall, I'll start with you. Talk about the plan that European Union leaders discussed Sunday night, including temporary shelters and emergency funds for Greece. What specifically was agreed to?
NUTTALLOkay. So the agreement on Sunday, there were two purposes to this summit. One of which was to avoid rapid deterioration in the humanitarian situation. We have thousands of people making their way from Greece through the Balkans in southeast Europe, most of them wanting to get to Germany. And the countries along this route weren't talking to each other. They weren't communicating so we had migrants and refugees being bounced around from country to country, lots of them sleeping out rough, weather conditions deteriorating.
NUTTALLAnd so one purpose of this summit was to get the leaders of these countries to coordinate their actions better, to talk to each other and to stop merely waving migrants through from one country to another. The second purpose was, perhaps, the slightly more strategic one and this was pushed very strongly by Germany, which is really starting to struggle under the pressure of the numbers of people arriving. And that is merely to slow the flow. They know they can't stop it, but they want to slow it down because the numbers have reached, in some cases, over 10,000 people a day.
NUTTALLAnd so what we've agreed now is that in Greece, we will have 50,000 places set up, 30,000 run by the Greek government, 20,000 by the UNHCR and we will have another 50,000 places set up in the Balkan countries. We don't know how they'll be distributed, but the idea here is to provide some sort of temporary shelter for a number of these migrants so that they stop making their way through the funnel from Greece to Germany.
REHMCan you give us a sense of the mood at that summit? Is there a great sense of urgency? Are people cooperating or is there kind of a sense of panic?
NUTTALLYeah. I mean, there's definitely a whiff of desperation to some of this at the moment, again, particularly from the Germans. And I think a lot of that is to do with the domestic situation. Some of the states within Germany are really starting to worry about both whether they can handle the logistical problems that attend the arrival of all of these people, but also about some of the political tensions that are starting to arise in some parts of the country.
NUTTALLThere are also concerns among those institutions that are meant to have the interest of all Europeans at heart, the European Commission, which is a part of the European Union, about this humanitarian situation. And I think the feeling, the concern is that with winter approaching, if we don't start to coordinate actions between countries lots more closely, then we could be facing a very serious situation with people sleeping out in the cold, being unable to make their way to the places they want to go, as where the conditions start to deteriorate.
NUTTALLSo, yeah, there's a mood of desperation. In some courses, possibly even panic.
REHMTom Nuttall, he's Brussels correspondent, Charlemagne columnist for The Economist. Nicholas Schmidle, tell us why Greece has become such a focal point here.
SCHMIDLEIt's become such a focal point for a couple of reasons, the main of which is just geographical proximity to Turkey. I mean, as of a year ago, the primary route was from Libya, crossing the Mediterranean into Lampedusa, Italy and southern islands of Italy. That route became more dangerous and this Turkish/Greek route opened up and became sort of increasingly popular over the course of the summer. So now, the boat trip, rather than being a multi-day boat trip, either from Libya to Italy or from Turkey, in some cases, to Italy, now it's a four-hour boat trip from Turkey to Greece.
REHMAnd, of course, you wrote in the October issue of The New Yorker, you wrote about the journey of a young man from Syria. Tell us about Ghaith.
SCHMIDLEYeah, sure. So Ghaith is a -- I guess he's now 25, law student from the University of Damascus who, last year, began a journey that took him about a year and a half to finally complete. It was a remarkable, remarkable story in which he tried to travel by airplane, by boat, trains, cars. I mean, it's a journey that I'm sure many, many, many a Syrian and many a refugee are trying to make at this point. But to be able to sort of, you know, Ghaith was incredibly open and receptive to letting me just dig and dig and dig into this story and to, you know, pull out documents and introduce me to friends and things like that that I think just sort of opened up a window into the broader story.
REHMHe had to leave his wife and mother behind. His mother said, I'd rather lose you now than see you dead in the streets.
SCHMIDLERight, exactly. So they had relatives -- the Syrian Army moved into their village southwest of Damascus and massacred dozens, reportedly, in August of 2012 and Ghaith's mother said precisely that, that she would rather him go and not have him there than have him sort of be lined up, you know, against a wall and shot in a firing line.
REHMNicholas Schmidle, a staff writer for The New Yorker. Anemona Hartocollis, tell us about the Majid family.
HARTOCOLLISHi, Diane. So I went to the border between Greece and Macedonia looking for refugees to follow in the trip across Europe over the summer. And when I got there, I met this incredible family at the border waiting to cross. And they are two brothers, Ahmed and Farid, their wives and children and extended family. They're traveling in a group of about 14 family members at that point. They came from Aleppo where they had a small clothing factory that was looted early in the civil war.
HARTOCOLLISAnd they had moved to their village and (unintelligible) Sunni Kurds near the Turkish border and the older brother, Farid, was kidnapped a year ago and they had debated until then, you know, should they stay or should they go. And that was kind of the last straw and they left.
REHMLeft to go...
HARTOCOLLISThey left. They crossed the border with Turkey. They had to do it in the middle of the night. They did it separately. You know, the kids were traumatized by that. In one case, there were soldiers firing over their heads. In the other case, they heard a boy being beaten very badly. So Ahmed says to his four-year-old, Jane, sometime later when I was with him at the Hungarian -- well, at that point, too, he said, don't make any noise when we go across.
HARTOCOLLISSo they crossed under great danger and then my story was the story of the family, but also because I was with them for nearly three weeks, it was this step by step story through a series of European countries and crossing borders. Kind of my eyewitness account of what happened. So they repeated that dangerous border crossing in Hungary and it was a really scary time for all of us because they had to go through barbed wire, razor wire.
REHMAnemona Hartocollis, she's a reporter for The New York Times. If you'd like to join us, questions, comments, 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Nick, I know you've talked with Syrians and other seeking refuge. They want to get to Europe. They want to find freedom and yet, many of these countries are saying, how do we know these aren't terrorists? How do we keep ourselves safe as these hundreds of thousands of refugees cross our borders?
SCHMIDLERight. And so, you know, so Ghaith's story, again, is anecdotal, but I find it remarkable that the group that he ended up traveling with -- I mean, he traveled by himself. He flew from Damascus to Istanbul after having made a failed attempt to leave through Beirut, in which he was imprisoned for several days and then forced to stay in Lebanon for another two months. But when he finally got to Turkey and then traveled from Istanbul to Mersin, which is a sort of launching point, city, on the southern coast, he ended up joining a group of about ten people that were traveling and trying to get on boats and crossing borders.
SCHMIDLEAnd all of them are college-educated, mid-20s, I mean, just not the bunch that you hear the scaremongering about and so I found that a pretty remarkable sort of profile of who was traveling.
REHMNicholas Schmidle, he's a staff writer for The New Yorker. When we come back, your comments, questions, stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the huge, almost unbelievable, refugee and migrant crisis in Europe as we speak. And many have gone to Greece, many have gone to Germany. We have three guests with us. Nicholas Schmidle of The New Yorker magazine, Anemona Hartocollis of The New York Times, and Tom Nuttall, he's Brussels correspondent and columnist for The Economist. We have a Facebook comment from Jose and perhaps all of you would like to comment on this. Nick Schmidle, I'll start with you. A Facebook comment from Jose, why aren't these military-age, body-able young men fighting for their country? Nick.
SCHMIDLEIt's a really interesting question because it's precisely the reason why Ghaith left, which is that he was due for conscription in a matter of weeks to be enlisted in the Syrian Army and...
REHMBecause he would have graduated from...
SCHMIDLE...from law school, right. And there were actually checkpoints -- there were checkpoints that are set up throughout Syria right now and they're stopping young, able-bodied men and asking them, why haven't they enlisted? So Ghaith knew that this moment was coming up and he decided that, you know, the question I guess that Jose asks is to defend their country against who, you know? To fight ISIS but on the behalf of Bashar al-Assad? I mean, what -- the choices are so terrible.
SCHMIDLEAnd so, as Ghaith said to me, he says, look I neither wanted to be killed in that war and I was even more scared of killing in that war. And I think that the lines are so -- the lines are very hazy and, you know, exactly who you would be willing to fight for is a really pertinent end question that Ghaith couldn't answer.
REHMThat was so moving that he said, I will either be killed or I'll be killing people, neither of which seemed a sensible option for him. What about you, Anemona, what did members -- I don't know how old they were but what about the men in the Majid family?
HARTOCOLLISSo the men in the Majid family were not that old. Ahmed is 30, his brother is 35. They had a couple of younger cousins in their 20's -- three actually -- traveling with them. But as Nicholas suggested, the situation -- the battle lines are not that clear in Syria. They're in the middle of a civil war and, as Ahmed said to me, they are caught between warlords, militias, the government army or, you know, as he put it, al Nusra, the Free Syrian Army, Bashar al-Assad, ISIS, even their own people, the Kurdish militia. So it's a messy situation and I don't think it's clear who you're dying for in that country.
REHMTo say the least. And to you, Tom Nuttall, here is an email from Karen, who describes herself as a former U.S. diplomat living in Michigan. She says NATO can help stop the carnage of refugees fleeing Syria. NATO has transport aircraft flying into an airbase in eastern Turkey. Why not use those airbases to process prospective asylum seekers in an orderly fashion, then fly them to NATO on German airbases in Germany on the transport aircraft? From there, they can go by train anywhere in Europe. Tom.
NUTTALLYeah. I mean, the difficulty with ideas like that, it's not so much the logistical problems -- although they would obviously be huge -- the trouble is, what does this mean? If you -- if we send out the message that Syrian refugees or refugees from elsewhere can make their way to a NATO base in Turkey on the expectation that they would be resettled in Germany, what does Germany then do? Does Germany say, we can accept everybody that comes in? Or does it say that we will redistribute the burden to other European countries? Then those other European countries will say, no.
NUTTALLYou also have problems of international law. Those asylum claims, if they are made outside of the territory of the European Union, it's not clear under which country's asylum procedures they would be processed. And that's why these ideas of having offshore processing centers for asylum claimants have never got anywhere. Now I think that next year we probably are going to move towards a big debate on a large-scale resettlement of refugees from Turkey, from Jordan, from Lebanon, also from IDP, internally displaced people, in Syria itself.
NUTTALLAnd here we may be talking perhaps a large international conference involving not only the European countries but perhaps the United States, Canada, some of the Gulf States as well, so that we can have a large-scale, orderly way for people to make their way to peaceful countries so that we stop the disorderly flows. But the debate in Europe is not yet ready for that.
REHMNick, talk about how Ghaith and other migrants are getting their information. I thought it was fascinating that it's word of mouth, but there is also one system.
SCHMIDLERight. Right. So that was kind of the -- one of the remarkable takeaways for me, was the -- not just that Facebook is connecting people and that social media is connecting people and whatnot, but there is a website that's maintained by a Syrian refugee who is now in Germany named Abu Amar (sp?) is how he is known. And he has become -- as we describe in the story -- he's become sort of like a real time Harriet Tubman.
SCHMIDLEHe has an app on his phone called Zello that acts as -- not to be confused with the real estate app Zillow -- but Zello, which operates as a walkie-talkie. And he has a channel that refugees can contact him on this channel and ask him, you know, can say, I'm at the Greek-Macedonian border and I can't -- I've tried to get in twice and the police have stopped me. And he will send them maps, annotated maps from Google Maps, showing with arrows how to get around -- like, which mountain to get on top of, how to come down the side of that mountain, how to get around the police. And he is sort of single-handedly guiding dozens, hundreds, thousands of refugees across some of these borders.
SCHMIDLEHe posts updated maps every day showing the sea conditions between Greece and Turkey. It's a pretty profound role of social media sort of operating in ways that I just had no idea before I started the story.
REHMWhat astonished me was that Ghaith had to borrow and pay thousands of dollars for each of the eight crossings or attempt he made to move to a place of safety.
SCHMIDLERight. Right. Right. He's borrowing money from family along the way.
REHMHis sister, yeah, his...
SCHMIDLEHis uncle loans him money in the beginning.
SCHMIDLEAnd the thing is, is that -- I mean, one of the things that -- and this is interesting because it brings about the contradiction between what this Abu Amar and the Facebook route portends to offer, which is a way around the smugglers -- Abu Amar is saying, you don't need to pay a smuggler $1,000 to get you through Greece. I can sort of guide you there for 80 bucks, for the train ticket. But in some cases, like to get through the Hungarian border, you need a smuggler to help you get across that border safely. And so he would have to shell out, you know, 800 euros her, 1,000 euros there. And, you know, it's a remarkably costly thing.
SCHMIDLEAnd now, you know, all of the -- all of these refugees that I spoke to, they just want to begin working because, in many cases, they owe a lot of money to friends and family that have loaned them money to get there. So they just want to begin working. And because of various restrictions on their statuses, some of them are not able to work and to begin sort of, you know, finding their new identities in Germany or Sweden or wherever.
REHMAnd what about the Majid family, Anemona? How did they manage financially and otherwise?
HARTOCOLLISSo they were a fairly prosperous family in Syria. And this is the reputation with some justification of the Syrian refugees, that they do, by and large, tend to be middle class. But they had to sell a house. They had bought a safe house in Turkey in case they had to flee. They had to sell that house to pay ransom for Farid's kidnapping. That was a $120,000 ransom. They had to bribe the border guards at the Turkish border $100 a head to get across. They had to pay $1,200 for their dinghy to get from Turkey to Lesbos.
HARTOCOLLISThey had to pay $2,500 for a taxi -- 2,500 euros, at that point -- excuse me -- for a taxi to get them from the Hungarian side of the razor-wire fence to Budapest, where they stuck for five days and they almost had to pay many thousands of euros to get out of Budapest. But just in time, as your listeners may remember, a huge group of refugees started walking on the highway in Hungary towards Austria. And the prime minister, the Hungarian prime minister relented and picked them up in buses and took them to the border. So there was a lot of money involved.
REHMAnd Tom Nuttall, did the EU, at its meeting, take up this issue of smugglers and the money they are demanding?
NUTTALLNot at this particular meeting, no. This was a sort of roll-up-your-sleeves attempt to get the countries on the Western Balkans route to start talking to one another. But, I mean, we've had endless meetings and summits on this problem for the last six months and the role of people smuggling has obviously come up in several of those. There is a naval mission, called Operation Sofia, operating in the Mediterranean, with a mandate to intercept smuggler ships and to distribute information between European countries on them.
NUTTALLBut what a lot of people say, and I think I'm inclined to agree with them, is that really the smuggling is just a symptom of the issue. Now you have vast numbers of people who want to make their way to safety in Europe. And they have particular ideas about particular parts of Europe that they want to be in. They want to be in Germany, they don't want to be in Greece, et cetera. And so while you have that demand, it's going to be very difficult to clamp down on the smugglers. You clamp down on one smuggling organization, another one will appear. You clamp down on one smuggling route, another one will appear. And we've already seen that many times over the course of the summer.
NUTTALLSo I think focusing -- too much of a focus on the smuggler problem and too little focus on the root causes of this issue aren't really going to deal -- aren't going to lead to any sort of sustainable solution.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones. We'll go to John in Tallahassee, Fla. You're on the air.
JOHNYes. Thank you, Diane. My question is simply, if you could discuss why are the Arab Muslim nations...
REHMOh, dear. I'm afraid we've lost him. His question was, why are the Arab nations, themselves, not doing more to deal with this problem?
SCHMIDLERight. So Ghaith and his friends expressed great, sort of frustration, disappointment and even anger at this, because they were saying that the Gulf States, which are incredibly under populated, incredibly over budget -- I mean, there's plenty of money to go around, but that they have not taken in, I don't think, a single Syrian refugee. And so they express solidarity. They are involved in Syrian politics, according to Ghaith, sort of at the expense of Syrian stability. And yet they've not made any effort to sort of host, as they say, their Arab brothers. So there is, you know, from Ghaith and his friends particularly, some -- a great bit of anger at this.
REHMDo you think that more pressure will be put on those Arab nations?
SCHMIDLEWell, it's funny because, you know, what Tom was just saying that there may be an effort next year to figure out the sort of distribution, you know, how to begin distributing. I mean, on the same day, I think I read in The New York Times that it was determined that by the year 20 -- that in 75 or 85 years, that the Gulf States will be too hot for people to live in. So you have, I mean, you -- in the same way that these young men and women and old men and women who are leaving Syria don't want to live in southern Greece or don't want to live in the Balkan States but want to live in Germany, I'm sure that they would much rather live in Germany than live in Bahrain or Saudi or UAE or Dubai.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And joining us now by phone from Washington, D.C., is David O'Sullivan. He's the European Union's ambassador to the U.S. Hello, sir. Thanks for joining us.
AMB. DAVID O'SULLIVANGood morning, Diane. Thank you for having me on the show.
REHMTalk about what happened leading into the summit in Brussels when Slovenia's prime minister said, if the EU did not find solutions right away, it could be the end of the EU. Was that point really driving the EU to making some kind of decision?
O'SULLIVANWell, I think this is undoubtedly a major crisis. And I agree entirely with what Nicholas and Anemona have been saying, that the first thing we have to bear in mind is the human tragedy of this and the dire situation in which the people of Syria find themselves, having to seek refuge outside their own country, in neighboring countries and now, because of underfunding in those countries, starting to make the long and difficult journey to Europe.
O'SULLIVANWe've had this problem -- it's been a moving target, because it started in the Mediterranean, as you know, and we had the people drowning and we've had a massive search-and-rescue operation. And, as Tom has said, we now have a naval operation to try and address the issues of the smugglers. The focus has now switched to the land frontier. And clearly, this is putting our systems under strain. I think talk of the EU breaking up is slightly exaggerated, frankly. I think we are slowly coming to grips with this crisis.
O'SULLIVANIt's not easy because it is a moving target and because the focus constantly shifts. It was the Mediterranean, then it's the land frontier, then it spilled over into sort of the interaction between member states of the European Union and their neighbors in the Balkans, and sort of, when one country closed one frontier, then the focus shifted. I think the purpose of yesterday's summit was basically to get the countries most involved now in this new Western Balkans route around the table to agree how we can, on the one hand, ensure the humane and correct reception of the asylum seekers and, at the same time, coordinate activities so that one country does not do things which then put another country in difficulty.
O'SULLIVANAnd I think a lot of progress was made yesterday. But this is going to challenge us for some time to come.
REHMAnd when you say it's going to challenge you, what about the extra police promised to Slovenia?
O'SULLIVANWell, I think one of the issues which is there and which was discussed at the summit on Sunday is we do need to put some order into our external frontiers. It's not a question of closing them or turning away asylum seekers. We will respect our international obligations. But it's in the interests of the asylum seekers that this is an orderly process, in which people are treated correctly and they know what to expect when they approach a frontier and say, I'm an asylum seeker.
REHMAll right. And I'm going to...
O'SULLIVANWe need to have the reception...
REHMI'm going to have to ask you if you could stay on with us. We must take a short break here. I hope you will come back after a short break.
REHMAnd welcome back. Joining me on the line for just a few moments from here in Washington is David O'Sullivan. He's the European Union's ambassador to the U.S. And Ambassador, I wanted to ask you about Greece because surely it is still in dire economic trouble itself. It said it would provide shelter for more refugees only if the EU could provide more financial help. How much money are we talking about, and where specifically will that money come from?
O'SULLIVANWell, we have a number of sources in the EU budget which can address this issue, and I saw that I think there was a recent announcement yesterday of some additional five and a half million euros of immediate assistance to Greece. We all recognize that Greece has had to bear a disproportionate part of this burden, at a time, indeed as you say, when Greece is already facing its own financial challenges, and that's why I think one of the important decisions on Sunday was indeed to facilitate the setting up of reception areas in Greece, which would be managed and funded from outside that country.
O'SULLIVANSo I think everyone understands that the Greek people have shown enormous compassion and generosity of spirit, but the rest of us really do need to help them at this moment, and I believe, you know, that money, it will be forthcoming quite quickly.
REHMSo I gather the rule is that if a migrant arrive in Europe and is processed within that country, that country then provides long-term shelter for that individual. Is that correct?
O'SULLIVANWell, the principle under which we've been operating until the beginning of this crisis was indeed that the first country where the application for asylum is presented takes the responsibility for housing, sheltering and looking after the asylum-seeker while their application is processed. And if that asylum is -- request for asylum is successful, the person can either remain in that country or can indeed apply for resettlement elsewhere, and we have a resettlement program which also looks at that.
O'SULLIVANThe reality is that this principle of country of first arrival has been put into question because many -- the generosity of Germany in saying that they would actually take people has meant that many of the migrant -- sorry, the refugees, it's very important to make that point -- the refugees coming through the frontiers of Greece or Slovenia or Croatia or Hungary are actually looking for onward passage to Germany or Sweden.
O'SULLIVANAnd this has been part of the challenge, and I think the decision on Sunday was to at least make sure that an initial processing takes place in the first country of arrival, at least a registration, a fingerprinting, a drawing up of a file so that we can then decide whether these people are -- their files are processed in the country of first arrival or whether they are then moved somewhere else to have their file processed so that we can share the burden more equitably across all 28 member states of the European Union and not exclusively for the frontline states.
REHMAnd Mr. Ambassador, final question. What role do you believe Russia is currently playing in this Syrian crisis?
O'SULLIVANWell, I think we need a political solution in Syria as part of the -- as part of the solution to this refugee crisis. Obviously the first thing we need is a ceasefire, an end to violence and a political transition, which enables the people of Syria to determine the destiny of their own country. Russia will certainly be a part of that conversation, as will Iran, but the activities currently ongoing in that country have had the effect, unfortunately, of further destabilizing the situation rather than reducing the violence. And I think we really need a political process, which stops the violence, gets people around the table and helps the people of Syria build a future for their country, which will mean that people want to stay there, and hopefully some of the refugees will actually want to return.
REHMDavid O'Sullivan, he's the European Union's ambassador to the U.S. Thank you so much for joining us.
O'SULLIVANThank you very much, Diane.
REHMAnd to that last point, I wonder, Nicholas, who's going to be left to rebuild Syria if the educated, the wealthy, the people who literally have built that country have now left?
SCHMIDLERight, I think that's a great question because with each educated, wealthy refugee leaving the country, it postpones the chance of any sort of lasting peace being established. The only people who are left now, or increasingly the only ones who are left, are the belligerents who are involved in the crisis. And, you know, I saw a report this morning that, you know, ISIS, who has grabbed the headlines but is not necessarily the ones that are causing the most amount of violence, but ISIS today, you know, strapped three captives to the columns in Palmyra and blew up the columns and killed the captives.
SCHMIDLESo you have these just horrific things happening, and, you know, it brings up an interesting point that Ghaith made to me, as well, which was that, you know, he has now -- he sees himself as Swedish. He is so overwhelmed by the generosity.
REHMHe managed to get to Sweden.
REHMHe is waiting for his wife.
SCHMIDLEHe is. He has said that they will name their first child Aylan after Aylan Kurdi, the young Turkish -- or the young Syrian boy who was found washed up on the beach earlier this summer. He has said that he has no -- he is Swedish. He will -- he will apply for Swedish citizenship, et cetera. His older brother, who left a few years earlier, in September of 2012, seems to still be holding on. He seems to be much more homesick than Ghaith.
SCHMIDLEAnd there was one scene, his brother left in September 2012, he and Ghaith were united in July of 2015, and there's video that was shared with me of his brother -- Ghaith opening the door, his brother walking in, and them hugging for the first time. And his brother, who's about a foot taller than Ghaith, just buries his head in Ghaith's neck and starts bawling. And I asked his brother, Ghalib, what was going through your mind at that moment.
SCHMIDLEAnd, you know, he said not only had I given him bad advice that prolonged his journey, and not only had I not seen him in three years, he said, but when I hugged him, I could smell our home, and I could smell our mother, who was still back in Syria, and it felt like, he said, I was hugging the old Syria, which is just -- every time that I sort of, you know, listen to that, it just kind of -- you know, it broke me down every time he...
REHMIt breaks the heart, truly. Where is the Majid family now, Anemona?
HARTOCOLLISThe Majid family is, coincidentally, also in Sweden, where they have a cousin, and it was hard getting there. They were actually imprisoned in Denmark, of all places, and they thought about staying -- they were sent back to Germany. They thought about staying in Germany, but then in one of those political changes of fortune, Denmark opened the borders again, they got a second wind, they went to Sweden.
HARTOCOLLISAnd they're homesick. They just got there in September, but they both feel that they can easily assimilate with the Swedish people, and, you know...
REHMSo even though they're homesick, they have no plans to return to Syria?
HARTOCOLLISTo return to what? And, you know, I want to -- I keep thinking about the question from Texas. I found it very disturbing when I read the comments on my story on the Times website because many of them had sort of what I read as the same subliminal message, which is a sense of entitlement. You know, we here in America have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and we're entitled to it, but why should they come and share it? And I -- I don't understand that. It's like, you know, close the gates.
REHMAnd -- go ahead, Nick.
SCHMIDLEI just, you know, I've also -- I've gotten a couple of really interesting emails since writing the story, and I wanted -- and I had told someone over an email that I would try and put this out on the radio to see if -- how to go about doing this. I've had several people reach out to me and say they want to sponsor a refugee, they want to sponsor people like Ghaith. They would open up their home to people like Ghaith, how do they do it.
SCHMIDLEAnd I don't know. I have no idea how someone goes about sponsoring a refugee, but if there are any with thoughts or suggestions, I'm sure that that information, I could sort of pass on, and I suspect that Anemona has probably gotten similar things, despite some of the negative comments that you do hear these also, these outpourings of generosity, as well.
REHMAll right, let's go back to the phones, to Pensacola, Florida. Janice, you're on the air.
JANICEYes, when I was visiting my son in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria back in 2005, we made a car trip from Sofia down to the southern border, and we passed abandoned village after abandoned village. Why can't there be some land grants for these people, and they can come in with their pioneer spirit and develop and be given these houses to fix up? I mean, it was whole villages full of houses just...
REHMSure, Tom Nuttall?
NUTTALLYeah, I'm -- this is a really important point. So the European -- one of the things that the European Union has been able to agree on, at least on paper, in the last few months is what's called a relocation scheme. And the idea is that 160,000 asylum-seekers who arrive in Italy and Greece will be redistributed to most of the other countries in the European Union. Now -- and the point of this is to relieve the burden on those countries and to ensure that you have some sort of solidarity mechanism so that everybody is taking on some of the burden.
NUTTALLNow it turns out in practice this is an extremely difficult thing to do. So far there have only been a handful of flights from Italy to I think Sweden and Finland I think are the only countries that have taken people so far. For Greece, they haven't managed to arrange a single one at all because they cannot find candidates among the asylum-seekers for these relocations. And your caller mentioned Bulgaria. Well, Bulgaria is one of the countries in Eastern Europe that has signed up to this relocation plan. It's also the poorest country in the European Union.
NUTTALLNow a lot of these countries, they do not want to accept asylum-seekers, and it turns a lot of these asylum-seekers don't want to go to those countries. So one of the difficulties is if you are -- if you have a plan under which each country accepts a quota of asylum-seekers, what do you do? Even if you're able to manage the physical relocation in the first place, which as we're learning is extremely difficult, how do you ensure that those asylum-seekers are going to stay in place once they've been relocated and not simply up sticks and go to the countries that they were probably aiming for in the first place, such as Germany or Sweden? And no one has an answer to that question.
REHMAnemona, do you want to jump in there?
HARTOCOLLISWell, I think pioneers is a terrific way of describing these people. They really are in their Conestoga wagons going across to unknown territory. And whether they would succeed in Bulgaria, you know, it is a poor country, and that's the main reason they're avoiding these places. The people who live there are barely surviving.
REHMAnd Sweden is where many of them are now headed. Talk about why, Nick.
SCHMIDLEWell, I think, you know, I think the social welfare programs are much more robust in Sweden than elsewhere. I mean, the experience of Ghaith and his friends seems -- they seem to be more -- they seem to be happier with their situation than Anemona, the family that Anemona followed, it seems. But when Ghaith and his friends shared their experiences compared to the experiences of some of Ghaith's fellow travelers, who are now in Germany, it's unquestionable that the situation in Sweden is benefitting Ghaith much better than the situation in Germany is benefitting his fellow travelers.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. To Etta in Ann Arbor, Michigan, you're on the air.
ETTAYes, I wanted to raise a question about the wealth of these people and the people they're leaving behind to just suffer. And I think it's time for us to develop an army in exile with all these young people who just want to go on with their life somewhere else, and when the time comes to put boots on the ground, they will be well-trained, and their women and children will be allowed to be somewhere, including the United States, while they trained to go back and liberate their country.
REHMNow there was a great deal of money put into training, was there not, Nick?
SCHMIDLERight, there was. There were -- there were programs or there are potentially still ongoing programs to train rebels, and there were some really startling revelations a couple of months ago that of the number of U.S.-trained rebels you could count on two hand, or one hand. I mean, it was -- it was baffling. And, you know, to the question, to the caller's question, I mean, they're leaving because they don't want to fight. They don't want -- they are fleeing war. So the idea of sort of suiting them and training them up to send them back in to liberate their country...
REHMAnd rules of war do not apply where ISIL or ISIS is concerned.
SCHMIDLERight, right. I mean, it's just -- it's an absolute sort of -- it's an absolute mess.
HARTOCOLLISYeah, I agree. I mean, I don't know what the thrust of the caller's question is. Is she suggesting that they should be punished in some way or that they're unpatriotic? I don't believe that they are unpatriotic, and I'm sure that they will fight in the armies of the countries -- and their children will fight in the armies of the countries that they have resettled in.
REHMAnd Tom Nuttall, the weather is getting colder. The situation becomes more desperate in the process. What do you see happening now? Tom Nuttall? Oh, I'm afraid we've lost him. Can you speak to that, Nick?
SCHMIDLERight, well, I think that everyone who has planned to leave is now trying to get out before it gets too cold. And there's also -- there's a great sort of -- I mean, not to trivialize it, but there's a great fear of missing out. Everyone is leaving. The more -- the more who settle in Syria and Germany, then more of these Syrians are less likely to want to go to somewhere like Bulgaria, where they don't know anyone, when they could go to somewhere like Germany or Sweden, where they have cousins or brothers or sisters, etcetera.
SCHMIDLESo this, like, chain migration that you see that takes place in all sorts of, you know, cities around the world where you say why are there so many of one ethnicity in one city, I think it's happening right now again, and it's going to be very hard to break that.
REHMSo what is left in Syria if the bulk of the people with wealth, with education, with understanding of how to rebuilt, what happens to that country?
SCHMIDLEI don't know. It's a -- I think -- the other problem is that very few people know. There are very few independent eyes on the ground in Syria. I mean, it's a country that is more or less absolutely forbidden to journalists. And so the closest that we can report to the situation in Syria is finding young men like, you know, like Ghaith or like the Majid family and finding out from them what their lives were like and what they've left behind and what they hope for the future.
REHMSuch a sad and dreadful situation. Nicholas Schmidle, he's a staff writer for The New Yorker, Anemona Hartocollis, she's a reporter for The New York Times. Tom Nuttall was with us, Brussels correspondent and Charlemagne columnist for The Economist. And you also heard from David O'Sullivan, E.U. ambassador to the U.S. Thank you all for being with me, and thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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