By Brenda Flanagan
A rising tide of human misery, the flood of refugees — many fleeing the war in Syria — hit a wall of resistance this weekend along checkpoints in Croatia and Hungary where tanks and wire fences kept them from crossing borders.
“It’s illegal. What we do? Just stay?” said a refugee.
“The moral and legal responsibility here is on the countries in the European Union. What’s missing is a collective European Union Action,” said a UN representative.
“To see those mothers and those babies living in ditches on the side of the road, not knowing where their next meals are coming from, not knowing what their circumstances are, it’s heartbreaking. And to close our doors now would be the wrong message to send across the world,” said Congressman Donald Payne, Jr.
Payne supports Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that the United States will significantly raise its limit on refugee visas, from the current cap of 70,000 to 85,000 next year and 100,000 by 2017. Most refugees accepted by the United States now come from Iraq, Somalia and Bhutan.
“This step that I am announcing today I believe is in keeping with the best tradition of America as a land of second chances and a beacon of hope and it will be accompanied by additional financial contributions to the humanitarian effort. Not only from our government, but from the American people,” Kerry said.
“How do we change the human tragedy that is Syria?” asked Senator Bob Menendez.
Menendez welcomed Kerry’s announcement even as he urged the US to focus on the cause of this mass migration.
“A quarter of a million people have died in Syria. There is no end in sight. The Russians are now sending aircraft into Syria. You have to wonder what our policy is. I’ve been pressing the Administration. I’d like to know what their plan is, because I don’t get a sense that we have one,” he said.
Menendez joined other New Jersey politicians to announce a $7.4 million federal Homeland Security grant to hire 38 Newark firefighters — replacements for retiring staffers. It brings the department into compliance for best public safety practices. Republican lawmakers fear a large influx of refugees could pose security risks.
“Anyone who is accepted as a refugee will have to go through a background check and a whole vetting. But once they do and we are secure about the individual, I think the nation needs to be at the lead of showing other countries in the world what we want them to do. We call upon European countries to accept Syrian refugees. You have to lead by example,” Menendez said.
Since 2011, four million Syrians have sought asylum, but only 1,600 gained legal asylum in United States this year. Just a handful made it to New Jersey.
“We are seeing individuals that are leaving crisis-torn, war-torn countries. Their lives, as they know it, are turned completely upside down,” said Zillehuma Hassan, Executive Director for Wafa House.
The US will start accepting up to 10,000 more Syrian refugees starting next month. That’s more than six times the number currently accepted. Critics say it’s still not enough.