The escalating crisis of migration unfolding on the Mediterranean Sea and now across Europe is heartbreaking and horrifying. The displacement is the greatest since World War II, and rising. So is the desperation of those seeking asylum, and the frustration of countries and communities that feel threatened or overwhelmed.
Even from these distant shores, each of us can understand what drives this exodus. It's the same thing that drove many of our ancestors, and many of those now trying to enter and stay in our country. Above all other needs, people crave safety and security. From war. From persecution. From hunger. From repression. From poverty. From drought. Instability wracks much of our world, and so people seek to escape.
More than 2,600 have died this year crossing the Mediterranean. Dozens more have perished while being smuggled over land. More than 300,000 people have reached Europe. Italy and Greece are overwhelmed. Some countries, like Germany, France and Sweden, are trying to be accommodating. Others are not. The images are stark.CartoonMatt Davies' latest cartoon: "Coming for your guns"CommentSubmit your letterReader essaysGet published in Newsday
Hungary is building a fence topped with razor wire to keep migrants out. Stun grenades were fired in Macedonia. Some countries have engaged in racial profiling, others have said they will accept only Christian refugees. Xenophobic protests are increasing. And in Austria, dozens of beautiful coffins stacked like cordwood hold bodies that had been stacked similarly in a truck abandoned on the side of the road, the dead treated better than when they were alive.
The problem has been made worse by the inability, or refusal, of the European Union to respond cohesively. This crisis is a test for the unified Europe, which has no uniform protocol for screening migrants or granting asylum, nor quotas for how many migrants each country must accept.
Even those steps deal only with the symptoms of the larger issue -- the lack of safety and security elsewhere in the world. And solving only the symptoms -- whether in Europe, the United States or elsewhere -- means ignoring to our detriment a lesson that must be learned. As the world indeed grows smaller, problems that fester elsewhere can easily and quickly become our own.