A great deal of criticism has been heaped on the Harper Conservative government for its apparent inaction regarding the plight of Syrian refugees, given the hundreds of thousands languishing in refugee camps in places like Turkey and Jordan.
Federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, in particular, has been targeted for blame after the publication of a photograph of the lifeless body of a three-year-old Syrian boy that had washed ashore along the Turkish coast, once it was discovered that the boy’s aunt had made an appeal to Alexander for refugee status on behalf of another family member.
Refugees not only from Syria and Afghanistan but also from troubled states in Africa have been fleeing desperate conditions daily by the thousands. Many have died in their attempts to move to places of safety. But, those deaths have not stirred the level of public sympathy as has the sad images of the lifeless child.
Government officials in France and Italy, where many traveling through North Africa have fled, have labeled as migrants the masses of Black Africans trying to seek refuge. The suggestion being, migrants are not in desperate need of rescue from life threatening conditions, but rather want to get into Europe to seek better economic opportunities.
But many of these people are not risking their lives just to access better economic conditions; they are faced with the choice of remaining in strife-ridden regions and certain death or running for their lives away from warfare in Sudan and the chaos of Somalia, which has been classified as a failed state. Just as those fleeing Syria.
Here in Canada, local groups that have organized themselves to offer private sponsorship for Syrian refugees have been stymied by immigration ministry intransigence. So we have to ask what chance do refugees coming from Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea have?
As sympathetic as the public response has been, Canada’s history towards refugees is not one of which to be proud. The focus has been instead on the few exceptions, such as the rescue of the Vietnamese refugees (boat people) at the end of the military conflict in Vietnam.
These are different times. While the need for many is truly desperate, there must be caution in processing the people seeking to enter Canada. It would be foolhardy not to consider that among the many who are seeking a safe haven until such time as they can safely return to their homeland there might be some who might not be who they say they are. We also have to wonder why so many young men are fleeing Syria rather than staying to fight for their country.
The Canadian government would better serve the wellbeing of refugees immediately by extending greater assistance to the United Nations’ efforts to support Syrian refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, as well as refugee camps in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Yemen that are receiving Sudanese, Somali and Eritrean refugees every day.
People are leaving those camps because they are not able to adequately cope with the numbers entering them. With poor sanitation, chronic shortage of food supplies and an over demand for medication and medical treatment, the people there are suffering severe hardship.
It would take weeks and even months to process all those who say they want to come to Canada, but it would be much more efficacious to fill the needs gap at the sites where people are at this very moment.
By giving direct support to the UN and other sanctioned agencies working in these refugee camps, countries able to provide assistance, Canada among them, could ensure that refugees are well cared for and, when the situation on the ground improves, they will be able to return and reclaim their homes, their lives and indeed their homelands.