The flow of migrants into Europe has tripled over the past year, reaching more than 340,000 in the first seven months of 2015. This sudden influx has created both a humanitarian and political crisis on the Continent. Yet as European countries struggle over their respective responsibilities as hosts, they must not be solely focused on what is really only a symptom. The long-term solution to this growing flight of desperate migrants requires that Europe, along with other nations, deal with its leading cause.
What is the leading cause? Most of the migrants arriving by boat have lately arrived more from the Middle East than from Africa, and the largest group is from Syria. Millions of Syrians have been stuck in camps in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon for as long as four years. Many more could soon decide to make the difficult trek to Europe. They have watched with despair as nearly a quarter million of their compatriots have been killed in a war waged on pro-democracy activists by the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad. And more than a third of Syria is now controlled by Islamic State (IS), a jihadi militant group that has enslaved women and destroyed the antiquities of ancient civilizations.
No war should last for four years, especially one on this scale and whose effects now reach far beyond its borders – even to the point of migrants trying to enter the tunnel for the train from France to Britain. The international community has a good track record of coming together against many transnational problems – crime, terror, environmental threats, health crises. The Syrian refugee crisis demands a similar response.
Solving any Middle East problem can be difficult, given the strains over religion and between big powers. Yet the rising export of issues from Syria – refugees, the offshoots of IS, and the example set by Syria’s use of chemical weapons – should now help force an international compromise.
Negotiations to resolve Syria’s war have faltered since 2012, frustrating the best of diplomats. Yet as Turkey and the United States step up attacks on IS, and now that President Obama has struck a deal with Iran on its nuclear program, there has been a flurry of diplomatic feelers involving Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and others to come up with a way to form a new government in Damascus.
On Aug. 17, the United Nations Security Council issued a statement calling for a “Syrian-led political process leading to a political transition.” The mechanism of any transition may not be easy. But with the EU facing the prospect of a further flow of Syrian migrants, it has a big incentive to take the lead in finding a diplomatic solution. Dealing with root causes rather than symptoms is always a smart move.