The refugee crisis facing Europe is the worst since the end of World War II, and it will not end anytime soon. Some 9 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes by war, including an estimated 4 million who have fled the country. The U.N. estimates that there are now 60 million refugees as the result of conflicts worldwide.
While Germany is leading the way in welcoming 800,000 Syrian refugees, it is unlikely that any European country will be able to keep up so generous a policy for long. Nationalist, anti-immigrant parties are gaining ground in France, the Netherlands, Austria and elsewhere in Europe. A flood of Muslim refugees from the Middle East and Africa will no doubt fuel a backlash that adds to these parties' appeal. It is a dangerous situation that could turn the immediate crisis into a decades-long political upheaval.
Europe has done a poor job of turning immigrants, especially from the Middle East, into Europeans. France, which, like the United States, has at least a nominal assimilationist ethos, has nonetheless failed to integrate its large Muslim population, which now accounts for about 8 percent of the population. England, too, has large populations of unassimilated Muslims, including more than a million who live in enclaves in London, as well as in cities like Birmingham. The British Muslim population has more than doubled in the past 10 years and now comprises 5 percent of the country's total. Germany's Muslims now account for 6 percent of its population, which will grow another 1 percent with the expected inflow of new refugees.
These numbers are far lower than the U.S. immigrant population -- which now stands at 13 percent -- but there are big differences in the experience of immigrants in the U.S. versus Europe. Despite the claims of anti-immigrant groups in the U.S., America's immigrants quickly assimilate into the social and economic mainstream. There are many reasons for this -- not least that virtually all Americans have foreign roots -- but we also believe in the importance of assimilating newcomers quickly.
The Germans should be applauded for their generosity in welcoming so many Syrians -- but if those Syrians are to become fully integrated, it will take a massive effort and a change in the mindset of German elites and the population as a whole.
The biggest problem will be to help these refugees find jobs. Most Western countries, including the United States, provide temporary assistance to refugees, including housing, food and cash to help them through the initial stages of resettlement. Unlike immigrants who are expected to pay their own way -- and do so in the U.S. -- refugees are by definition people who have to flee quickly without being able to gather the resources to set up a new life. Most of the Syrians have paid thousands of dollars to human smugglers who got them past borders and into Europe in the first place, and so these refugees' personal resources are exhausted.
The cost of settling refugees will be substantial, but Germany, at least, seems willing to bear it. The challenge is to wean them off of assistance programs as quickly as possible -- and here the record is much worse in Europe than in the U.S. Unemployment among refugees and immigrants in general in Europe is substantially above what it is for the native-born.
This is not the case in the U.S., where unemployment is low among immigrants. Foreign-born workers in the U.S. had an unemployment rate of only 5.6 percent in 2015. In the European Union, the unemployment rate of the foreign-born was 21.5 percent in 2013 and even higher in countries like Spain and Greece. Jobless young Muslims throughout Europe have been fertile recruiting ground for ISIS, and they are among the perpetrators of domestic terrorism in England, France and Spain
President Obama has directed the State Department to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year as part of the United States' contingent of 70,000 authorized refugees. It is the right thing to do, but it will only be a Band-Aid on the hemorrhage that is occurring in the Middle East. Only an end to the war can ultimately stem the flow, and Obama has shown no real commitment to enforcing red lines against the murderous Assad regime, nor has he stopped the spread of ISIS in the region.
Thankfully, the American people and our traditions of assimilating newcomers will at least lead to better lives for those Syrians lucky enough to be among the refugees who end up here with jobs, instead of out of work in Europe.
Linda Chavez is the author of "An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal." To find out more about Linda Chavez, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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