While we are safe and sound in our comfortable homes, the number of refugees and internally displaced people is growing exponentially, especially in the ever-more turbulent Middle East, Syria in particular.
In Syria, more than 2.5 million, of a total population of almost 18 million, have had to seek asylum in neighbouring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and northern Iraq. These countries, already saddled with refugees and in various stages of development, can barely afford to sustain this burden, even with external aid.
This is where countries like Canada can step up to the plate. And this is where Canada, under its current political leadership, has failed. The None-is-Too-Many mantra that kept our doors closed to Jewish refugees prior to and during the Second World War, appears to be back. When it comes to Syrian refugees, we have failed to live up to our previous moral commitments and humanitarian resolve in reaching out to and providing protection and asylum to Southeast Asian refugees, those from Uganda, and Ceylon, in large numbers. Relatively speaking, our response to the crisis in Syria is lamentable.
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Could it be that we are closing our doors because many among the Syrians suffering abuse and hunger in overcrowded refugee camps happen to be Muslim? We would not be alone in that regard since 14 European Community nations, where ultra-nationalism is on the rise, are refusing to accept any Syrian refugees. Canada has undertaken to receive 1,300 Syrian refugees by year’s end, but so far only some 200 have arrived on our shores. And as Brian Stewart has pointed out on CBC, Sweden, with a population of less than 10 million, has already accepted 10 times as many, some 14,000.
We will not soon forget the way federal immigration minister Chris Alexander refused to provide a figure when questioned on CBC Radio’s As It Happens by a persistent host, Carol Off. Transparency is not a hallmark of this Harper government, especially in areas where they are falling behind.
Canada is committed to providing $353 million in humanitarian aid in the area, but is that enough? Instead, Canada is committed to an active role in the U.S.-led campaign to bomb positions of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Exactly what our troops are doing there has not been disclosed.
We remember how the U.S. got bogged down in Vietnam with its initial commitment to a strictly advisory role.
Canada used to be effective as an honest broker in world conflicts. It also helped ease human suffering by accepting refugees, who have contributed mightily to Canada’s growth and development. It is time for this government to pull back from macho militaristic responses and steer our country back to where it can be effective. Accepting more Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees would be a welcome move.