Europe’s leaders, who have come under heavy criticism for an inadequate response to the thousands of refugees trying to reach their shores, are calling the latest events on the Mediterranean a humanitarian crisis. This seems a small ray of hope in the ongoing disaster – because you can’t have a humanitarian crisis without humans, and it's a step forward to see a human tragedy where others see a border-security breakdown or an immigrant problem. It seems unfair to blame Europe for the desperate people embarking from North Africa on overcrowded boats owned by unscrupulous human traffickers, as a Boston Globe editorial did yesterday, arguing that “the European Union has a moral duty to provide the financial resources and manpower to stem this escalating humanitarian crisis.” Europe didn’t cause the crisis, at least in its present incarnation, and it is not going to be able to stop it – and I can't think of many countries that would make the efforts Italy has made to rescue those at sea.
We need to stop flaying ourselves long enough to recognize that while the West isn’t perfect, there’s a reason why millions of desperate people are trying to get here, and no amount of wishing or wall building is going to make them stop coming. One lesson from Europe is that, whether out of humanitarianism or self-interest, we need to accept the responsibility our success has given us by continuing to engage with the world, which has become a very small place indeed.