At his Sunday address at the Vatican, Pope Francis called for each Catholic parish in Europe to take in one family fleeing the conflict in the Middle East.
He told the crowd that the Vatican would house two refugee families.
“Every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe, take in one family,” the Pope implored. His statement was a call to conscience and a call for action to European leaders.
The evolving refugee crisis springs from both: The deadly deterioration of the human rights situation in Syria and surrounding countries, and a failure by much of Europe to respond in an organized and humane way to the influx of 4,000 refugees each day in recent weeks.
“Europe is showing a staggering lack of political will and humanity to grapple with this refugee and migrant crisis,” said Judith Sunderland, associate Europe and Central Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “EU leaders should be guided by the imperative to protect lives and ensure humane treatment,” she said.
Horrific scenes of bodies of refugee children washing ashore on European beaches are the direct result of European Union policies denying refugees safe and legal paths for refuge. Two thousand refugees have died this year trying reach the EU.
The EU has only set aside 22,000 slots for legal refugees this year, about 3% of the total needed. This means that refugees hoping to save their lives must resort to desperate measures to seek freedom. Without a better system, children will continue to die in large numbers along the path to refuge.
A second problem is a lack of coordination among EU member states. This has led to some countries bearing the bulk of the influx, while other countries receive few refugees. The sharing of refugee resettlement by all the countries of Europe is necessary to avoid humanitarian bottlenecks in places like Greece and Hungary, or overburdening more generous resettlement countries like Germany.
Some countries, like the United Kingdom, have taken in a substantially smaller share of the refugees than Germany. Smaller countries like Ireland have not stepped up to take greater responsibility for receiving the persecuted. A few countries, like Denmark, have turned to anti—immigrant policies to discourage refugee resettlement entirely.
Europe is facing its greatest migration crisis since the end of the Cold War. Its response so far has not been much better than its behavior in the dark days before the European Union was created.