Imagine everyone in Los Angeles fleeing to other states? How would the newcomers be housed, fed, re-establish their lives? That is the size of the astounding migrant crisis affecting Europe and the Middle East today, where more than 4 million Syrians have fled their country in the past four years and at least half headed to Europe (more than 330,000 people reaching Europe this year alone. There have also been mass exoduses from other parts of the Middle East and Northern Africa as desperate people have risked drowning in the Caribbean Sea on overcrowded smugglers’ vessels or on land in the band of unventilated vans.
Not since before and after World War II has Europe encountered a crisis this size with so many people fleeing from the rise of Hitler and later the destruction after the war. It is probably no coincidence – given the comparisons with World War II – that the Catholic Church and Germany have indicated a willingness to assume a last part of the astounding migrant load arriving in Europe
The German government has pledged to take in 800,000 asylum seekers. That is reportedly more than the other European Union countries combined have committed to admitting.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, Pope Francis asked the Catholic parishes and monasteries in Europe to each house a migrant family that has fled from the war in Syria. He also indicated that the Vatican itself will welcome two refugee families. “Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees who are fleeing death by war and by hunger and who are on a path toward a hope for life, the Gospel calls us to be neighbors to the smallest and most abandoned, to give them concrete hope,” Francis reportedly said.
While it is optimistic that all the local churches will accommodate a family – and the governments of the other countries will allow transport and settlement – this would provide shelter for from 360,000 to almost 500,000 refugees. (The numbers are based on an estimated 122,000 parishes in Europe, according to a Georgetown University study cited in the Washington Post, and each migrant family consisting of three to four people.)
Some might say the responses of the German government and Catholic Church are out of guilt for their treatment of the Jews in Hitler’s time. The issue for many others is welcoming people of a different religion into their communities.
“We have a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said. “I do not see any reason for anyone else to force us to create ways of living together in Hungary that we do not want to see.” Does that sound reminiscent of when countries would not take in Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler?
In Czechoslovakia, another unfortunate comparison arose. Czech authorities met a trainload of Syrians in Breclav to register the newcomers. They assigned a number to each person, which they wrote in marker on the people, evoking criticism from human rights organizations and Jewish groups since the Nazis tattooed numbers on everyone they sent to concentration camps.
Orban’s government also raised other fears by threatening to send a trainload of migrants off to be registered at a camp for refugees in the town of Bicske. According to reports, the migrants started chanting “No camp! No camp!” having heard of trainloads borne to refugee camps in Central Europe against their will or stuck in vast tent cities near the Syrian border.
While Germany and the Pope (and presumably the Catholic parishes ) have stepped up, clearly more needs to be done. Shamed by photos of a dead Syrian toddler refugee whose body washed up onto a Turkish beach, other countries are rethinking their attitudes toward the migrants. British Prime Minister David Cameron announced Friday, under considerable pressure, that his country would accept “thousands” more refugees than they had planned. Ireland is also increasing its quota. On Saturday, the Prime Minister of Finland Juha Sipila indicated that he would personally house some refugees in his home. But those countries are far away from where the migrants are steaming in, so logistics get complicated, too.
A United Nations refugee agency has indicated the need from Europe to accommodate an astounding new population, with a size estimated at 200,000 that still do not have shelter this winter. However, some countries are reluctant to take in any refugees. Others, like the Czechs, reportedly only want Christian migrants. Some European nations have considerable other problems and are ill-equipped to deal with an influx of refugees. But, for those who can, barring the doors on a continent where Jews and other groups could not find safe havens in recent memories seems unconscionable.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
Washington Post: Amid unabated refugees crisis, pope calls on parishes to take in families
Los Angeles Times: Europe’s refugee crisis is darkened by the shadows of WWII
Washington Post: If Pope Francis had his way, European parishes would house up to 500,000 refugees
Wall Street Journal: Pope Francis Calls on Europe’s Catholics to Shelter Refugees
CTV: Vatican to shelter 2 migrant families fleeing war, hunger
Newsday: Pope Francis is holier than thou on immigration
Photo courtesy of Voice of America News