E.U. president's emotional plea
Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Union's executive arm, called on the bloc Wednesday to accept 160,000 migrants, imploring leaders not to remain indifferent in the face of one of Europe's toughest humanitarian challenges in decades.
"Turning a blind eye to poor and helpless people, that is not Europe," said Juncker, a former prime minister of Luxembourg. Coming against the backdrop of anti-immigrant sentiment in countries like Hungary, which is building a 110-mile fence on its border with Serbia to try to keep migrants out, he appealed to Europeans in personal terms.
In his first State of the European Union speech in Strasbourg, France, he urged Europeans to remember their ancestors who sought refuge from religious persecution, war and famine, and he warned that Europe had a historical imperative not to look the other way.
"Let us be clear and honest with our often-worried citizens," Juncker said. "As long as there is war in Syria and terror in Libya, the refugee crisis will not simply go away."
The centerpiece of his speech to the European Parliament was his announcement of a plan, which would be binding on most member states, to spread the burden of accommodating 160,000 people, many of whom are flowing into Greece, Hungary and Italy.
Juncker asked ministers of E.U. member states to approve his plan at their next meeting, on Monday.
Sweden has so far taken in the most migrants per capita among all European nations. Meanwhile, in neighboring Denmark, authorities have taken the opposite approach. They placed an ad in Lebanese newspapers, carrying an unmistakable message: Don't come to Denmark.
On Wednesday, Denmark stopped all trains connecting the country to continental Europe through Germany to prevent migrants from crossing the border.
It certainly isn't the image most Americans have of peace-loving Scandinavia. "Until 2001, Norway, Sweden and Denmark could be seen as a fairly liberal bastion in the north of Europe," said Rune Berglund Steen, director of the Norwegian Center against Racism. Since then, Norway and Denmark have drifted away from Sweden.
"In Denmark and Norway, the political climate has been dominated by right-wing populist parties peddling in anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric," he said.
In the first half of this year, Norway, Finland and Iceland also took in fewer than 15,000 refugees each — compared to 75,000 who came to Sweden.
Australia's change of heart
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Wednesday that Australia would take 12,000 migrants from Iraq and Syria.
"We have to act with our heads as well as our hearts," Abbott said. Australia will also support 240,000 people who fled Iraq and Syria and are in neighboring countries.
On Sunday, Abbott had said that Australia would help with efforts to ease the crisis without pledging to take any more migrants, prompting criticism from opposition politicians who said the government needed to do more.