Syria Europe
A U.N. human rights official compared Europe's response to Syrian refugees to the rejection of Jews fleeing Nazi persecution. Above, a Syrian woman cries as she sits on a folding bed in a former newspaper printing house used as a refugee registration center near Frankfurt, Germany, Sept. 11, 2015. Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach

The language used by European politicians debating the refugee crisis has been “bewildering,” the United Nations' most senior human rights official said. Zeid Ra’ad al Hussain said many statements surrounding the influx of refugees from Syria were reminiscent of pre-World War II rhetoric that led the world to turn its back on Jews fleeing Nazi persecution, the Guardian reported Wednesday.

“One wonders what has happened to Europe,” Hussain said. “Why is there so much amnesia? Why don’t they properly distill from their experience that they’ve been down this road before, and it’s a very unhappy road if you continue to follow it.”

Though he did not mention any politicians by name, Hussain said the use of terms like “swarms of refugees” was troubling. British Prime Minister David Cameron used that phrase to refer to migrants in July. Earlier this month at the Conservative Party conference, Home Secretary Theresa May was criticized for saying migration would make it “impossible to build a cohesive society," the Guardian reported.

Hussain said the language reminded him of the 1938 Evian Conference, when major powers refused to take in significant numbers of Jewish refugees fleeing Austria following Hitler’s annexation of the country. They cited fears that refugees would destabilize their nations, and Hussain said their reluctance to help refugees ultimately led Hitler to decide on extermination rather than deportation.

“If you just look back to the Evian Conference and read through the intergovernmental discussion, you will see that there were things that were said that were very similar,” Hussain said.

Hussain praised a decision by the British government to take in 20,000 refugees by 2020, but said more needed to be done. He noted that his country, Jordan, took in more than 650,000 refugees at a time European politicians have turned toward “xenophobia and in some cases outright racism.”

Europe has seen tens of thousands of migrants and refugees cross its borders over the last few months, many of them fleeing war in Syria. While Germany has opened its borders to refugees, some countries in the region, such as Hungary, have reacted with hostility, warning that refugees from the Middle East could pose a threat to Europe's security. Germany, which has announced it will take in 800,000 refugees per year, has called on other countries to shoulder some of the responsibility.