WASHINGTON (CN) – In a moment of levity while addressing Congress on the global refugee crisis Tuesday, Bono of the rock group U2 said peacemakers must look for a common denominator.
“Don’t laugh, but I think comedy should be deployed,” Bono said, prompting a chuckle from Sen. Lindsey Graham. “I’m suggesting that the Senate send in Amy Schumer, Chris Rock and Sacha Baron Cohen.”
Addressing a Senate appropriations subcommittee this afternoon, Bono said comedy could help defuse the machismo men seem to adopt when they don’t have access to material things.
Subcommittee chair Graham did not commit to firing up a Hollywood bat signal but agreed that Europe would benefit from an emergency relief package as the refugee crisis worsens.
“I think we have to recognize we have an emergency on our hand, and we have to come up with a long-term strategy,” said Graham, a Republican from South Carolina. “And it has to be world-driven, not United States-driven.”
Graham said the Marshall Plan – a massive U.S. aid effort to rebuild Europe after World War II – worked to deradicalize Germany and Japan.
“Out of that effort, we have two stable democracies,” he said.
Graham hinted at limits to military intervention to fight Islamic extremism.
“I’m a pretty hawkish fellow,” he said. “But I learned a long time ago – about 30 trips ago – that you’re not going to win this war by killing terrorists.”
Bono called on world powers, including the U.S., to shore up development assistance and trade deals as a long-term strategy to halt the continued spread of chaos and instability.
“Investing today in stability is more cost-effective than investing later in crisis management and dealing with the violent extremism that conflict creates and attracts,” the Irish rocker said.
“As a European, I’m here to tell you that in Europe the problem has moved from practical to existential,” he said. “In 1989, the wall that divided Europe came down. In 2016, barbed-wire fences that divide Europe are going up.”
The comment references recent efforts by Austria and other Balkan states to stem the flow of refugees with razor-wire fences along their borders.
Bono cautioned the subcommittee that such efforts threaten European integration.
Known as much for his humanitarian work in recent years as his tinted sunglasses,
Bono actually accompanied a Graham-led congressional delegation that toured Kenya, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt.
Trying to clear up “wrongheaded ideas” about the refugee crisis, Bono told the committee it is neither temporary nor just Syrian.
While there are nearly 5 million refugees who have fled violence in Syria, there are 60 million forcibly displaced people globally. Twenty million of them have crossed an international border.
Kelly Clements, the deputy high commissioner for the United Nations refugee agency, said these numbers include 230,000 Iraqis, 176,000 Yemenis, nearly 1 million Somalis, 210,000 Nigerians, 200,000 Pakistanis and an estimated 500,000 Afghans.
Each country has millions more internally displaced, and these people require humanitarian aid and assistance, as well.
“If the uprooted formed a single country, it would be the world’s 24th largest,” Clements said. “Last year, more than 42,000 people fled their homes every single day. At the same time, the number of refugees who were able to return home was at its lowest level in three decades.”
Put differently, Bono said 1 in 122 people globally have been forced to flee their homes. Most arrive in developing countries, which are the least equipped to receive them, the singer’s written testimony states.
Clements described staggering aid needs – $7 billion for 2016 alone – that are going unmet.
“Our programs in Africa are at a breaking point,” she said, noting that her agency is able to meet only 35 percent of the continent’s needs. The Middle East region, which houses the majority of the Syrian refugees, is more than 40 percent underfunded, she added.
“While aid is no substitute for concerted political leadership to resolve conflicts, in the absence of political solutions we need robust humanitarian and development responses, particularly in refugee-hosting countries that are currently buckling under the strain,” she said.
U2 is known for weaving the political and religious – perhaps most iconically with “Sunday Bloody Sunday” from the 1983 album “War – and Bono told the committee “one unholy trinity of an enemy” is stoking radicalization in the Middle East: ideology, poverty and climate.
“If you don’t do it now, it’s going to cost a lot more later,” Bono said. “I do know that.”
Clements had harsh words for the U.S. lawmakers drafting anti-refugee legislation that conflates refugees with terrorists.
“Current attacks on the refugee protection system, fueled in part by an unjustified link between refugees and terrorists, fail to recognize that refugees are the victims and not the perpetrators of violence and extremism,” she said.
The rejection of protecting refugees – evidenced by xenophobic hate speech and hate crimes – has not been this high since before World War II, Clements said.
In the current political climate, Clements called it “essential to ensure nondiscriminatory access to quality asylum and protection.”
“While providing for their own security, countries should not slam shut their borders to those who are themselves the victims of violence, persecution, and often terrorism,” Clements said. “And who have no other means of finding safety.”
Bono agreed, noting that British Prime Minister David Cameron indicated he was finding it politically difficult to take in more refugees.
Limiting resettlement would be a mistake, and “all countries need to take more,” Bono said.
“I think my friends back there would agree with that,” he added, shouting out the anti-war group Code Pink, whose Lady Liberty costumes caught the rocker’s eye as he entered the hearing.
Bono actually stopped to chat with Code Pink before the hearing’s start, a rare feat for the group whose presence at past refugee-related hearings went heretofore ignored.
The rocker’s appearance today also drew a long line of fans clutching U2 records – one holding a vinyl copy of “War.”
Ending the hearing on an optimistic note, Graham told the committee that Syrian parents have no intention of turning their daughters over to the Islamic State.
“After 37 visits to Iraq and Afghanistan, I can assure the American people that they’re not buying what these crazy people are selling,” he said. “They don’t want to go down that road.”
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