However, the failure of EU ministers to reach a binding agreement about refugee quotas seems to have finally prompted President Obama to make a show of solidarity with his beleaguered European colleagues when he told the king of Spain that he “discussed the fact that the United States feels it is important for us to also take our share of Syrian refugees as part of this overall humanitarian effort” (Irish Examiner, 16 September 16).
It is clear Germany’s generous response has not been matched by the rest of the continent as Thomas de Maiziere the Minister of the Interior pointed out when he explained why the border was shut: “Germany stands by its humanitarian responsibilities. But with the huge number of refugees, the burden must be shared with more solidarity.”
However, whether Obama can persuade a US Congress to listen to act in solidarity with Europe rather than preach is debatable. There is a strong resistance to accepting refugees on both sides of the congressional aisle.
This type of eurocentric nationalism reflects the political ethos that preceded the Evian Conference of 1938, a gathering of nations summoned by Franklin D Roosevelt to address the Jewish refugee crisis. Despite platitudes about moral injustice, country after country, including Ireland, used the same economic and assimilation arguments to refuse entry to Jewish refugees.
Therefore, I suspect Angela Merkel will find it just as difficult to engender a unified pan-European response as her predecessors did at Evian.
Perhaps those who espouse an exclusionist world view could learn something from the impassioned plea by Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the UK, who drew an analogy between the rescued children of the Kindertransports after the appalling Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938.
He spoke of “how even small humanitarian gestures can light a flame of hope... knowing that without Britain’s willingness to provide our parents and grandparents with refuge, they would have died and we would not have been born” (Guardian, September 6). He got to the heart of resistance to refugees: “What is hard is to love the stranger, one whose colour, culture or creed is different from yours. That is why the command, love the stranger because you were once strangers... is summoning us now”.