THE refugees making news today are relatively affluent Europeans with autos and bright prospects and many willing hands to help them resettle. Their concern for the future and their families' is no less legitimate than those less well-off. But while their attraction to freedom is certainly inspiring, it is not a matter of survival for them.
Most of the world's 15 million refugees are far less fortunate:
Three and a half million Afghanis languishing in Pakistan. Nearly 56,000 Vietnamese in Hong Kong, murderously desperate to the point where their rage is directed against one another. Some 2 million Somalis and Sudanese and Ethiopians in the Horn of Africa (4 million in all on the continent), driven by civil war and famine to temporary, squalid camps. Unlike the East Germans, three-quarters of these refugees are women and children, particularly vulnerable to attack and hunger and disease.
Meanwhile, as Judy Mayotte pointed out in a recent Monitor column, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ``is struggling for its survival.'' Donors to the organization are giving more, reports Ms. Mayotte (winner of a MacArthur Foundation ``genius'' grant to continue her research work on the subject), but the need is growing half-again as rapidly.
The root causes of much of the problem - international conflict and civil war - are not easily solved in themselves. Nor is taking care of these refugees - crucial as it is - a permanent solution. It will take political settlements, helped along by the kind of mediating work former president Jimmy Carter now is doing among Ethiopian factions.
In some case, wealthy countries like the United States should make room for more refugees. The Bush administration proposes taking in 125,000 this coming fiscal year, up slightly over 1989. But its budget actually covers only 84,000, which is fewer than will have resettled in the US this year.
There are some reasons to take a hard look at those applying for refugee status. In the age of glasnost, for example, one need not automatically assume that all Soviet Jews and evangelical Christians are being persecuted. The White House is right to resist congressional efforts granting such special treatment.
Japan now distinguishes Vietnamese boat people seeking a better life from those genuinely subjected to political persecution. That's fine too, as long as Japan and the United States and Western European nations are doing all they can to help refugees in other ways.
The flow of Germans from East to West should remind everyone of that need.