Human Rights Watch released its annual report documenting human rights abuses in more than 90 countries, but the organization reserved its sharpest criticism for Europe over its handling of the refugee crisis.
The 659-page report, publicly unveiled on Jan. 27, faulted countries like Russia, China and India for taking steps to stamp out political dissent and blamed nations like Brazil and Egypt for using anti-terrorism laws to limit civil liberties, the New York Times reported.
But much of the report focused on Europe's leaders, saying they've failed to coherently address the refugee crisis while allowing fear to shape how their governments treat men, women and children fleeing war and chaos in the Middle East.
"Fear of being killed or tortured in Syria and other zones of conflict and repression drove millions from their homes," Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, wrote, according to the Washington Post. "Fear of what an influx of asylum seekers could mean for their societies led many governments in Europe and elsewhere to close the gates. Fear of mounting terrorist attacks moved some political leaders to curtail rights and scapegoat refugees or Muslims. And fear of their people holding them to account led various autocrats to pursue an unprecedented global crackdown on the ability of those people to band together and make their voices heard."
While praising German Chancellor Angela Merkel for taking a leadership role in welcoming the millions of Syrians who escaped their native country's civil war, the report blamed the wider European Union and individual heads of state for failing to come up with a unified policy for dealing with refugees and sharing the burden equitably among member states.
EU leaders haven't been able to agree on specific solutions to the refugee crisis despite holding half a dozen summits in the past few months, including the most recent meeting, when heads of state and diplomats gathered in Brussels, the Times notes.
Human Rights Watch chided Europe for deferring responsibility by pledging more than $3 billion to Turkey to "stem the flow" of migrants -- in other words, to keep them from coming to Europe in the first place. EU leaders have also increased pressure on Greece to tighten security against refugees arriving via the Mediterranean, where some 3,800 refugees have reportedly drowned trying to cross the sea on small craft.
The non-profit said European fears that terrorists might be among the refugees is overblown.
“To a large extent, Europe’s preoccupation with the new refugees as a possible terrorist threat is a dangerous distraction from its own homegrown violent extremism, given that the Paris attackers were predominantly Belgian or French citizens,” Roth wrote.
Although the majority of the refugee-related criticism was aimed at Europe, the U.S. did not escape the group's notice. The report pointed to racial discrimination in the American criminal justice system and criticized U.S. governors for trying to block Syrian refugees from settling in their states.
"In Europe and the United States, a polarizing us-versus-them rhetoric has moved from the political fringe to the mainstream," Roth wrote, according to the Post. "Blatant Islamophobia and shameless demonizing of refugees have become the currency of an increasingly assertive politics of intolerance."