More than 65 million people across world have been forced from their homes, by ideological extremists, ethnic violence, oppressive regimes and deadly food shortages. It is the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II, and like that war it will require a massive global effort to end the suffering and chaos.

Yet it remains an open question whether the United States and the rest of the West will take up that banner. So far, the outlook is not promising.

The Trump administration already has taken steps to withdraw the U.S. from its global obligations, and attempts by European powers to intervene in the crisis have only accelerated the rise of a nationalist, anti-immigrant opposition at home.

But turning away from this unprecedented emergency will not make it disappear; it can only make it worse.


Then what is the U.S. role in the global refugee crisis? Whose responsibility is it, exactly? How should the world care for the millions of displaced people? And how can the crisis be kept from getting worse?


The Trump administration appears to be shoving aside those questions. Thankfully, not everyone is.

The Camden Conference, an annual gathering of foreign policy experts and concerned citizens, will celebrate its 30th anniversary from Feb. 17-19,with a topic that could not be more relevant: “Refugees and Global Migration: Humanity’s Crisis.” Speakers include U.N. advisers, professors, human rights activists and other experts on national security, migration and displacement. Among the attendees, thanks to scholarships, will be 20 immigrant students from Maine.

The speakers represent a wide variety of views, and the conference will attempt to get at just how to stabilize unstable regions, quantify the risks and moral obligations of the worldwide community, alleviate the suffering of millions without homes and integrate refugees of divergent backgrounds into new countries.

Those are complex questions with no easy answers.


With all the attention given to refugees and immigrants in the last week, one would think the West already is facing the crisis head on. Nothing could be further from the truth.


Of the nearly 5 million Syrians pushed from their country – along with another 6 million displaced within Syria – only an estimated 10 percent have gone to Europe. Just 18,000 have been resettled in the United States,

Meanwhile, countries with far less wealth and fewer resources are taking responsibility. Turkey, with less than a quarter of the population of the United States, has taken in around 2.5 million Syrians. Jordan has taken in more than 600,000 Syrian refugees, and Lebanon, population 4.5 million, has accepted 1.1 million Syrians.

Of course, Syria is just part of the crisis. Citizens of countries in the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia and Central America are running for their lives in huge numbers. They are fleeing bombed-out cities, and villages threatened by warlords and dictators that target for death any opposition. They are escaping religious extremists and drug gangs that recruit children at gunpoint. They have been forced to vacate areas left barren by climate change that has turned farmland to desert and shifted fishing patterns, making food scarce.

That makes for a diverse refugee population, and one that will only grow as the factors driving the crisis intensify. It is a unique challenge for world leaders.


But rather than rising to meet it, the Western world is pulling away. Far-right nationalist movements are gaining popularity throughout Europe by using anti-immigrant rhetoric, not the least in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing intense criticism after agreeing to eventually take in more than 1 million Syrians.


And in the United States, where distance has kept us from feeling the full effects of the refugee crisis, President Donald Trump in one of his first official acts cut off immigration and refugee resettlement from seven Muslim-majority nations, including Syria. He calls the ban temporary, but there are elements within his administration that want to severely diminish the influx of foreign citizens to the United States, if not end it altogether.


There have also been suggestions the Trump administration will pull back support for NATO and the United Nations, whose refugee program is already underfunded, leaving refugees trapped in substandard and makeshift living conditions. Trump has threatened to pull the U.S. from climate change agreements, as well.

Turning away from this emergency can not be the answer. It will not repair the unstable and failed nations spurring the crisis; it can only make them more susceptible to extremism and oppression. It will not make our country more safe; it can only make the world more dangerous.

The Camden Conference is a timely opportunity to understand what’s driving global migration and why it’s so important to act.

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