Calling what is happening in Europe a refugee crisis no longer captures the enormity of the problem. This is a catastrophe that will soon become far worse as warm weather swells the torrent of people fleeing war in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. With the European Union incapable of united action, country after country has imposed panicky controls on once-open borders to block the refugees...

On Monday, Macedonian police fired volleys of tear gas at asylum seekers who burst through a fence on the Greece-Macedonia border. The same day, France began clearing out “the Jungle,” an enclave near Calais with thousands of refugees waiting desperately to cross the English Channel into Britain. And as gates across Europe close to them, thousands upon thousands of people crowd into Greece, which is opening a new camp nearly every day.

A report by Liz Alderman of The Times, about the desperate efforts of Greece to feed and house refugees expected to soon number 100,000, is heart-wrenching in its description of the wretched conditions of refugees and of the extraordinary efforts of the Greeks to help them. Greece cannot shoulder Europe’s burden on its own.

Then there is the threat to the whole concept of an open Europe. Last month, Austria joined with nine Balkan states to impose a tough border policy, in the process inexplicably reclassifying Afghans as economic migrants rather than refugees and therefore barred from entry.

Four East European countries, led by Poland and Hungary, have likewise joined to block refugees, undermining the united Europe they dreamed of while in Soviet captivity. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who from the outset of the crisis has urged pan-European action and has opened her country’s doors the widest to refugees, is increasingly a lone voice of leadership and reason.

Europe must move now to end the ad hoc anti-refugee alliances and forge a common and humane policy, including urgent help for Greece. And the United States must become an active partner in this effort. The pleas of people seeking safety are a challenge not just to Europe but to all countries with a conscience.

NYT Editorial


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David Pike, Editor