Germany made headlines Sept. 8 when Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the country is expected to spend $6.6 billion to welcome 800,000 refugees by the end of 2015. Merkel has insisted that the country’s borders remain open in light of Europe’s refugee crisis. Germany, which could accept up to an additional 500,000 refugees in future years, has committed to absorbing more refugees than any other European Union nation.
Sweden has accepted more than 50,000 refugees, while France and Spain are adjusting quotas to welcome tens of thousands across their respective borders. British prime minister David Cameron said England will accept 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years. Even Venezuela has pledged to open its borders to 20,000 refugees. Meanwhile, Hungary, Austria, Croatia and Slovakia have imposed strict border controls to restrict refugees and migrants from entering.
More than four million Syrians—nearly a fifth of the country’s original population—have become refugees since the country’s civil war began in 2011, according to the United Nations. Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey have sheltered 3.6 million Syrians and other refugees from bordering countries. Still more refugees seeking shelter in Europe are the result of separate conflicts in Somalia and Afghanistan.
President Barack Obama has recommended the United States accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year. Since the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011, America has only absorbed 1,554 of them. An online petition on The White House’s website that calls for the government to pledge to welcome at least 65,000 refugees has garnered more than 78,000 signatures.
The president is being urged by 17 Senate Democrats and 72 members of the House of Representatives to increase current initiatives. Secretary of State John Kerry has said in private meetings that he wants the number to be raised to 75,000, according to a Sept. 16 report by USA Today. The refugee limit must be finalized by the beginning of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.
The president should raise the refugee ceiling to at least 65,000 for the next year, as recommended by the global humanitarian organization International Rescue Committee. David Miliband, the president of the IRC and former foreign minister of Britain, has criticized the U.S. for not doing more to aid and resettle the abundance of refugees. According to Miliband, the U.S. should consider welcoming 100,000 Syrians, citing America’s history as a refugee haven.
In 1979 and 1980, an estimated 207,000 Vietnamese refugees were absorbed by America, according to The New York Times. In 1980, the U.S. also welcomed more than 120,000 Cubans who fled during the Mariel boatlift.
Some may argue that the U.S. played a role in Vietnamese and Cuban conflicts and therefore had primary responsibilityfor aiding refugees. However, as a world leader, America should set an example for other nations by offering refuge to those in need.
The Statue of Liberty,a symbol of America’s freedom and values, is inscribed with the words of poet Emma Lazarus: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
The Statue of Liberty welcomed millions of immigrants and refugees entering Ellis Island and escaping famines, persecution and war throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Like immigrants in previous generations, Syrian refugees are fleeing because they have no choice. America should welcome those who are coming from overseas seeking refuge from disaster and destruction in their homelands. To set a low ceiling and lay tens of thousands of refugees on the shoulders of the European Union because of proximity is not the American thing to do in this crisis.