The Straits Times says

Migrant crisis needs concerted action

The human contours of Europe's worst migrant crisis since World War II were carved indelibly into the conscience of the continent by the photograph of a single Syrian child. Three-year-old Aylan Kurdi drowned along with his five-year-old brother and mother when their boat capsized on its way to Greece. They came from so far and came so close to finding a sanctuary, and yet perished. Such is the desperate quest for a new life that defines the agony of contemporary migrants.

Europeans responded by opening their hearts and even their homes to the waves of humanity fleeing the despair of war in Syria and other countries. For every right-wing leader warning of an "Islamic invasion" of Europe, to say nothing of far-right hooligans who attacked asylum camps, hundreds of Europeans came together to welcome the migrants. The trauma of the Middle East revealed on a modest scale the best in humane Europe. Yet, the numbers of those arriving are overwhelming, far beyond the capacity of individuals, communities and even cities to handle.

Germany, which has taken in 450,000 migrants already this year, undoubtedly acts with moral authority when it urges fellow members of the European Union to pull their weight in absorbing the newcomers. Berlin's stance - of pushing for compulsory long-term EU quotas with no limits on numbers - goes beyond the conservative scope of a European plan on the table to distribute 160,000 new arrivals among member states. However, eastern European states are opposed to binding quotas decided by Brussels.

Not possessing Germany's economic heft, these countries are uncertain of their capacity to integrate a large number of migrants into the economic and social fabric of their societies.

As compassion fatigue sets in even among liberal segments of these countries, it is numbers that will come to the fore.

Every wave of arrivals accepted and settled naturally will create hope among thousands more in the home countries to join the exodus. Such gigantic population movements cannot be managed without an end-game in political sight.

The United Nations must get involved more directly in helping Europe to adopt a posture that is both humane and feasible. The war in Syria, the consolidation of the Islamic State's writ of terror there and in Iraq, and the defunct developmental priorities of failed states are the root sources of the problem. These festering causes have to be addressed collectively and urgently at the international level. Simultaneously, trafficking networks need to be destroyed, border controls tightened, existing refugee conventions reviewed, and the costs of providing humanitarian relief shared equitably. Europe's migrant crisis ultimately is a global one, and the only sustainable solution is to assure Europeans that they are not alone.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2015, with the headline 'Migrant crisis needs concerted action'. Print Edition | Subscribe