More than 65 million people across world have been pushed out of their homes, the result of extremist ideologies, 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.

However, turning away should not be an option.


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 more than 600,000 Syrian refugees, and Lebanon, population 4.5 million, has 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 gun point. They have been forced to vacate areas left barren by climate change that has turned farm land 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 severly diminish the influx of foreign citizens to the United States, if not end it altogether.

There have also been suggestions the Trump administration will recede 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.

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, scheduled for Feb. 17-19, will celebrate its 30th anniversary as an opportunity for discussion on matters of global importance.

Started as a winter diversion for former diplomatic officials living in the Midcoast area, the first conference attracted around 25 people to a local library. This year, nearly 1,000 people will attend at venues in Camden, Rockland, Belfast and Portland, in addition to the dozens of related events held up and down the coast in the last few months.

Each year coalesces around a theme, with “The New Africa,” food and water supplies, and a resurgent Russia covered in recent years.

And the event draws impressive speakers: former Sen. George Mitchell; William Cohen, the former senator and defense secretary; Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser for Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush; and Marine General Tony Zinni, a former special U.S. envoy to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, to name but a few.

The topic is picked well in advance, and this year, just weeks after Trump’s immigration order, the conference will center on “Refugees and Global Migration: Humanity’s Crisis.” Among the attendees, thanks to scholarships, will be 20 immigrant students from Maine.

Speakers include UN advisers, professors, human rights activists and other experts on national security, migration and displacement.

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, except that turning away is not one of them.

Turning away from the unprecendented emergency will not make it disappear; it will only make it worse. It will not repair the unstable and failed nations spurring the crisis; it will only make them more susceptible to extremism and oppression. It will not make our country more safe; it will only make the problem more dangerous when we are finally forced to deal with it.

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