In the midst of a frantic refugee problem, Angela Merkel stands out in a sea of tepid European leaders, despite her heavily publicized lukewarm interaction with a teenage asylum seeker. The crisis, in which hundreds of thousands are escaping war zones and persecution from the Middle East and Africa, came to an emotional peak Tuesday with the tragic discovery of a Syrian toddler’s body on a Turkish beach. Denouncing xenophobia and the idleness of her fellow European Union nations, Merkel now takes a moral approach to the emergency at hand. “If Europe fails on the question of refugees, if this close link with universal civil rights is broken,” she said at a press conference Monday, “then it won’t be the Europe we wished for.”
While part of her moral stance could be attributed to domestic concerns, as Germany is expected to encounter more than 800,000 asylum seekers this year, there is no doubt she is an unflinching champion — the only one right now — of the cause, especially considering the rampant anti-immigrant attitudes in her own country. More telling is the fact that she's willing to take in all of the prospective refugees and then some. Speaking at the Swiss capital Berne Thursday, she proposed changes to the EU’s current policy regarding asylum and reemphasized the importance of solidarity. She said that the burden of taking on so many refugees should not fall on just a few magnanimous countries, which in this case are Sweden, Austria, and Germany, though Iceland deserves a shout-out here, as 10,000 of its residents volunteered to house Syrian refugees while its government remained silent.
In addition to a quota system that would ensure fair distribution of refugees among European nations, Merkel said the EU rule requiring migrants to seek asylum in the first country they arrive is simply not working. Going against this policy, Germany already announced that it would take in refugees regardless of where they enter the EU.
Merkel’s emotional call to action marks a shift in her typically cold demeanor in handling politics. Just last month, she confronted a young Palestinian asylum seeker with the insistence that Germany cannot help every single refugee. The girl, who said she aspires to go to college in Germany, soon began to sob. Though Merkel comforted the girl with praise and some awkward stroking, critics antagonized her as callous and even mean.
But no one’s pointing fingers now, especially not when other European leaders have been less than welcoming of the refugees. While French President Francois Hollande stands in support of Merkel’s proposal and UK Prime Minister David Cameron will finally, albeit probably with reluctance, accept more refugees, Hungary has erected razor wire fence along its borders. Meanwhile, Slovakia announced it will only take Christian refugees because Muslims “are not going to like it here.”
Among these fumbling countries is none other than the United States. In the four years of Syria’s civil war, there have been approximately 4 million refugees that fled the country. In that time, America has taken only 1,541 of them. Although the government has pledged to accept up to 8,000 in the next 15 months, it’ll barely make a dent in hundreds of thousands more expected in Europe in the next coming months.
So, dear America, let’s take a cue from Germany’s industrious chancellor (did you know she has a doctorate in quantum chemistry?!) and do our part.