GWEN IFILL: Joining us now to talk about that push and pull, and the announced proposal today to help remedy the crisis, is the European Union's ambassador to the United States, David O'Sullivan.Welcome.
DAVID O'SULLIVAN, European Union Ambassador to the United States: Thank you.
GWEN IFILL: So let's talk about the proposal put forth today to take — to accept 160,000 of these migrants and refugees and spread them somehow among different countries in the E.U. How feasible is that?
DAVID O'SULLIVAN: I think it's eminently feasible.
I mean, you need to understand, of course, that this is basically a proposal designed to relieve the immediate pressure on the front-line countries in Europe who've had to bear the brunt of the increased wave of refugees, particularly Italy and Greece coming from the Mediterranean, and now Hungary through the route of the Western Balkans.
It's clear that these countries, enormous efforts though they have made — and the Italians and Greek people have been extremely generous in their reaction — it is more that they can cope with, so we do need a redistribution of people already on European soil across all of our member states, so the burden can be shared more equitably.
But this is not the only action which is being proposed, of course. We're also looking at stepping up action across the borders. We are the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to the refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.
But, as your report has shown, the system there is at breaking point, and this is part of the push that the international community will also need to address.
GWEN IFILL: A lot at the breaking point, including emotions.
DAVID O'SULLIVAN: Indeed.
GWEN IFILL: I want to talk about the 160,000, though, because you're saying that is a baseline, that's where you begin, not where you necessarily end.
And you're talking about enforcing by putting in place, mandating quotas, certain countries have to accept a certain amount. How do you enforce that?
DAVID O'SULLIVAN: Indeed.
Well, this would be adopted as European Union legislation, which means that then this is what member states have to implement, because the member states will adopt this legislation. Enforcement of European law is not a problem. The challenge will be — I openly admit — actually to get member states to agree to impose upon themselves legally mandatory quotas.
But I think that this is the challenge which President Juncker of the European Commission has laid down, and Vice President Mogherini speaking publicly, have all said that this immediate challenge is a challenge to our common European commitment to human rights, to humanitarian values and of course to our international obligations to welcome refugees in decent conditions.
I emphasize this is not to be confused or conflated with the more general problem of migration or freedom of movement across the European Union. This is a very specific problem linked to people fleeing persecution and war.
GWEN IFILL: If you're the government of Denmark or of Hungary, as we just saw, and you're not necessarily on board with this, how do you persuade them to vote for this? They are members of the E.U. in good standing. How — why would they do this?
DAVID O'SULLIVAN: Well, I think you make the argument as to why Europe has a moral responsibility in this situation to live up to our international commitments to treat refugees decently, to hold them in conditions, decent conditions while they are processed and their request for asylum is assessed.
And this is not easy to do in the conditions which you have seen in Hungary, in the conditions which we know exist on some of the Greek islands, which are literally overrun not with vast numbers of people, seen as a proportion of the European population, but for these countries and these specific municipalities and towns, it is more than they can reasonably be asked to cope with.
And I think it's absolutely reasonable to expect that all of Europe, all 28 member states, show solidarity with our member states who are struggling and with these refugees who are generally fleeing persecution and war. But, of course, this is not the only element.
The European commission has proposed a comprehensive approach. It involved, as you know, search-and-rescue in the Mediterranean. We have rescued many hundreds of thousands of people in the Mediterranean. We are looking at the origins of this problem, the crisis in Syria, the crisis in Libya. We're looking at…
GWEN IFILL: Which I want to get to in a moment, but I want to go back a — backward a little bit. How did it get so bad, and why does it seem like it took the E.U. so long to act in a unified way?
DAVID O'SULLIVAN: Well, I would contest your second observation.
I don't think it has taken us very long, because I think we have been extremely active already for several months. I mean, we produced our first proposals back in May, and we increased the search-and-rescue activities in the Mediterranean and have saved many thousands of people in the interim.
Why is the situation becoming so critical? I think there are two reasons. One is the breakdown of law and order in Libya, which allowed it to become a transit state without any control over the exit of refugees, particularly into the hands of smugglers. And, secondly, as I think your very interesting and frankly heartrending report from the camp in Lebanon showed, the Syrian refugees are now nearly four or five years in camps in Lebanon, in Jordan, and in Turkey.
Those countries are doing their best, but a country like Lebanon, as we know, has its own problems, and to be asked to deal with one million or more refugees is more than you can ask of them. So then the conditions for these refugees have become increasingly difficult. And, of course, they are despairing and anxious to try and escape to a better life, which they hoped for in Europe.
GWEN IFILL: And, finally, is there a greater responsibility that goes beyond the E.U.?
We saw today the U.S. was talking about 5,000 settlers being allowed here. Are other countries shirking their responsibilities, or is there more than they could be doing?
DAVID O'SULLIVAN: I think there is more that the international community could do.
I think the Gulf states, the Arab states also have a responsibility to help the situation in Jordan and Lebanon and Turkey. This is a global problem. The E.U. is not seeking to shirk its responsibilities. I think we will step up to the plate and do what is needed, and more than what is needed.
But, frankly, the dimension of this problem is such that we will need a global response, as indeed the secretary-general of the United Nations has called for.
GWEN IFILL: Ambassador to the U.S. from the E.U. David O'Sullivan, thank you very much.
DAVID O'SULLIVAN: Thank you very much, indeed.