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Europe’s migrant challenge

Not all countries may be able to benefit from the influx of newcomers; but all of Europe must share the load.

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Volunteers carry meals in front of migrants waiting to register at a compound outside the Office of Health and Social Affairs in Berlin Sept. 7. Struggling to cope with a record influx of asylum seekers, Germany has asked its European partners to take in more refugees too.

Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

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Europe’s greatest migration crisis since World War II is testing the ability of the European Union to find an effective and humane response.

Meeting the immediate needs of the people flooding into southern Europe, often from war-torn regions of Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan, remains paramount. But planning for what looks to be an ongoing stream of migrants that could continue for many years must be a priority, too.

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The EU is trying to develop a comprehensive policy in which each member state would be alloted a quota of migrants to accept. But conditions within the EU vary greatly, both politically and economically, making quota-setting a tricky business.

Germany should be applauded for the warm welcome it is extending to migrants. Ordinary Germans have headed to train stations to greet the newcomers with smiles, applause, and even water and needed supplies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she is “proud and grateful to see how countless people in Germany are reacting to the arrival of the refugees.”

The win for migrants may be a win for Germany as well. Its population is aging, and an influx of hundreds of thousands of new workers over the coming years will be needed to keep its economy surging. If migrants can be integrated successfully into German society, they will provide a tremendous engine of prosperity.

“Most refugees are young, well educated, and highly motivated,” Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler AG, maker of Mercedes-Benz cars, said in a newspaper interview. “Those are exactly the people we’re searching for.”

But other EU countries are not in a position to benefit in the same way. Their populations may be already growing and their economies can’t easily handle an influx of eager job seekers. Some face substantial internal opposition to the mass migration of Muslims into their countries.

But it seems reasonable that all of Europe bear some part of the load. “Europe is a continent where almost everyone has been a refugee,” points out Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission. “We Europeans should know and should never forget why giving refuge and complying with the fundamental rights is so important.”

An orderly way of processing new immigrants must be established and maintained, with preference given to those who are truly fleeing danger in their home countries. The EU estimates that 2 out of 3 migrants qualify for this status. Those who seek only a better economic opportunity, as legitimate as that motive may be, may have to be sent home eventually.

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A far greater number of refugees who have fled Syria get only as far as neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. These people need ongoing, substantial foreign aid, and their plight should not be overshadowed by the European drama.

The borders of the United States aren't directly challenged by this immigrant wave. But the US must stand ready to step up its commitment, including accepting some of the refugees on its own soil.

Meanwhile, the international effort to encourage stable and democratic governments in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Afghanistan must go on. Many migrants would gladly return home if conditions there would allow them to live in some reasonable degree of peace and security.

Until then the EU, with a population of a half-billion people, will be asked to do its best to host hundreds of thousands of newcomers. That’s not an easy task, but it’s not an impossible one either.


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