Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Syrian Refugee Crisis, Open Arms and Closed Minds

If you're anything like me your social media feeds have been inundated with commentary on the Syrian refugee crisis. It began in earnest during the federal election. The photograph of Alan Kurdi, the little boy, drowned on a beach in Turkey became a focal point for the entire crisis. The opposition parties (NDP and Liberals) competed for a more ambitious program to bring refugees to Canada. The Conservatives struck a different tone by emphasizing the security concerns. In many circles then Prime Minister Harper was criticized for fear-mongering. Since the election there has been a notable, and disappointing, reaction to the potential arrival of thousands of refugees.

If you have a presence in social media you've likely seen posts like this:

Here is a link to a Vice piece about all the false memes circulating on this topic.

The memes break down into a few categories, but all play into the fear of Muslims and a general disdain that these refugees are undeserving of help in general or from Western countries in particular. Perhaps before diving into this it would be valuable to discuss the origins of this refugee crisis. Five years ago the Arab Spring began in Tunisia. Sympathetic and similar uprisings took place across North Africa and spread to the Middle East. Concerns grew that as the unrest spread that things could become more violent and bloody as they entered the more totalitarian repressive regimes. In the spring of 2011 the Arab Spring manifested in Syria as a civil war. The Bashar al-Assad regime brutally repressed the uprising leaving only the extreme, militants behind. These groups became what we know as ISIS. In the intervening four years Syrian civilians have been caught between two murderous forces. This is a very short and overly simplistic summary, but gives an idea of what is happening.

In the fighting dozens of Syrian cities have been simply destroyed. Religious and ethnic minorities have been forced to flee their homes. The United Nations have estimated that over four million refugees have been displaced. Nearly half of them are in Turkey. Syria's neighbours have been overwhelmed and now the crisis has spread to Europe. What started as a brutal civil war has now spread to an international crisis. It is indisputable that Canada has a role to play, far more than the less than 3000 refugees already admitted. We are a rich, peaceful country more than capable of absorbing many thousands of fleeing refugees from Syria (and Iraq).

The criticism here in Canada have been incredibly short-sighted. These people are literally at risk of being slaughtered. They are fleeing Syria in leaky boats in desperation, not to pull off some scheme. Of course there are posts like these:

It's a common enough complaint, but it is an entirely nonsensical argument. Do veterans deserve our support? Do those with mental illness? Absolutely. For those posting these criticisms I have to wonder how much they donate to the Royal Canadian Legion, or CAMH, or other institutions that support the groups the purport to stand up for. It's a smokescreen. It is harsh but it has more to do with resentment towards refugees and fear of Muslims rather than any meaningful policy objection. We should do both, but it would require accepting the costs of affordable housing, which the public frequently objects to. This article from the Independent suggests that refugees are having a positive economic impact on their hosts

We have a duty to aid people in this conflict, especially since these are no clear good and bad guys we can lend military support to. In the war between ISIS and Bashar al-Assad neither as victor is good for humanity.  That being the case we should help those we can to give a good life to the survivors and let them join the Canadian community, if they so choose. 

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