A Humanitarian Disaster
Conflict in Iraq, Syria and Yemen and violence and poverty in African states are propelling an unprecedented flight to Europe. The most desperate are attempting to escape by sea from the chaos of Libya, where they are prey to Islamic State assassins and criminal human trafficking gangs. After the deaths of hundreds in two horrific incidents in April, it is clear that Europe’s maritime capacity, too focused on treating the crisis like a border control problem and not the humanitarian disaster it has become, must be rapidly and dramatically scaled up.
The crisis offers the European Union the opportunity to review and rationalize its asylum policies with the aim of establishing a reasonable and comprehensive plan for immigrant and refugee resettlement continentwide. The fiscal and social burden for new operations should be fairly distributed among all member states.
Pope Francis wisely warned in Strasbourg last November that any coherent E.U. response must include provisions to protect migrants not only on the high seas but in communities of resettlement, where they may be targets of labor exploitation or the source of resentment.
Unfortunately, no matter how Europe responds, tragedies on the Mediterranean will continue as long as the complex of conflict persists in Syria and Iraq. Finding a diplomatic solution to the violence that is tearing ancient communities apart should diminish the dangerous exodus across the sea. That is partly why a successful conclusion to negotiations with Iran over its nuclear development program remains a geopolitical imperative. An Iran that can be better integrated into the international community could play a pivotal role in bringing to an end these brutal conflicts across the Middle East.
Vatican vs. Violence
With the aim of encouraging respect for “true spiritual values,” the Vatican is planning a diplomatic offensive against religious violence grounded in frank and open dialogue with Muslim leaders and teachers. In an interview in April with the newspaper The Australian, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See’s secretary for relations with states, discussed the importance of religious engagement in negotiating global peace and noted “the situation of the Christians in the Middle East is most precarious and distressing.”
The larger issue of religious extremism, which is not confined to Islam, also needs to be addressed. This virulent strain infects all religions, including Christianity and Judaism. Recently, graves at a Christian cemetery in northern Israel were desecrated, and Jewish extremists, who have carried out similar acts in the past, are suspected. Israeli government officials rightly condemned the vandalism. Religious extremism strives to achieve ideological dominance over the other. If violence can obtain that objective, it will be used. By employing its vast diplomatic network, the Vatican hopes to raise awareness and combat religious intolerance. It is a critical issue of our time, which tears at the fabric of civil society as well as of religion, and it must be addressed.
As America’s editorial “A U.N. for Religion?” (3/9) stated, the Vatican is uniquely situated to provide a forum for conflict resolution and possible reconciliation. The great unknown is whether it can succeed in this endeavor. In order for society and religion to thrive, it must succeed.
Lessons From Ebola
It is clear now that the world was not ready for the Ebola outbreak that began in December 2013. After ravaging parts of West Africa for more than a year and a half, the highly infectious disease has left 10,000 dead in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia and has infected an additional 25,000. As the outbreak began to spread, many considered the World Health Organization the group best suited to respond. But in a recent statement its directors acknowledged that they, too, were caught unprepared, adding that the world remains vulnerable should another major outbreak occur.
W.H.O. leaders expressed a desire to create new measures that could help prevent such catastrophic situations. They promised to devote more resources to studying diseases with outbreak potential and acknowledged the need to create a reserve group of staff members for crises, provide greater oversight of member countries and use new organizational systems in the field.
The leaders highlighted the importance of building trust. Much of the chaos caused by Ebola was due to a lack of trust between affected communities and health workers. Strong relationships between communities and health workers can be key to rapid and more orderly responses to emergency situations. The W.H.O. might consider asking aid organizations already on the ground for guidance in their efforts to build relationships in potential outbreak areas. Organizations like Catholic Relief Services often have a deep understanding of both the big picture and the challenges that individuals face. They could provide the context needed to prepare for and, we hope, prevent future outbreaks.