Published:  12:00 AM, 03 February 2016

Lack of joint European action hurt refugees

Having received more than 1 million refugees in 2015, and with the desperate stream of humanity from the Middle East and Africa showing no signs of slackening, it's not surprising that European leaders are considering drastic measures to manage or reduce the flow. But several ideas being considered are reprehensible. They would subject refugees to unacceptable treatment and worsen a humanitarian crisis that Europe should be seeking to alleviate. The most sensational of the steps, adopted by law in Denmark last week and already in effect in Switzerland and parts of Germany, would authorize the confiscation of cash and valuables from asylum-seekers arriving with more than a modest amount of wealth - about $1,450 in the case of Denmark. In theory, the confiscations are meant to cover the cost of welfare benefits, but Denmark's right-wing government appears intent on driving migrants away with a show of hostility. The law extends the time asylum-seekers must wait before applying for family reunification from one to three years, a cruel and unnecessary delay. While more than one observer has pointed out echoes of Nazi practices in the confiscation policy, an incipient action by the European Union could have more far-reaching consequences. Last week its governing commission, concluding that Greece was "seriously neglecting its obligations" in registering, fingerprinting and housing arrivals, began a process that could lead to Greece's exclusion from the E.U.'s border-free zone by May. Meanwhile, several governments are dispatching security forces and equipment to neighboring Macedonia, even though it is not an E.U. member, to help seal off Greece from the rest of the continent.It's true that Greece, still reeling from its own economic and debt crisis, has not done all that it was supposed to; many arrivals are pushed northward without processing. But 850,000 migrants came last year to the country of 11 million, and at least 46,000 more arrived in January. Sealing off the country could overwhelm its capacity and create a new humanitarian crisis - like those that have prompted refugees to flee camps in Turkey and the Middle East. It is also unlikely to stop the flow of asylum-seekers, who would probably find new routes through the Balkans.  Some governments are working on more productive steps: Germany is trying to accelerate its process for making asylum decisions and has proposed setting up a work program to employ a half-million jobless refugees and others in the Middle East. But the E.U. is failing to move forward with constructive collective measures that provide refugees the humane treatment they deserve, both in the Middle East and in Europe.

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