Yes to Syrian refugees, but we must do it responsibly

by | Nov 20, 2015 | Opinion

Jeremy Appel
News Editor

The Paris attacks unleashed a torrent of anti-refugee sentiment that gives ISIS exactly what it wants – keeping Syrians and Iraqis ensnared in their cage.

“The Paris massacre gives us a horrifying taste of the unending and vicious violence that has killed 250,000 Syrians, displaced 10 million more and sent four million fleeing for their lives into Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey,” said Michael Molloy, a political scientist from the University of Ottawa who helped coordinate the resettlement of 60,000 Indochinese refugees between 1979 and 1980.

“These refugees are victims of the same evil visited on our French cousins. We must not lose sight of this fact,” he wrote in the Globe and Mail.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should be applauded for remaining firm in his commitment to resettle 25,000 refugees, despite opposition. But his pledge to do so by year-end, logistics be damned, plays into the hands of those who don’t want any refugees settled here at all.

Trudeau promised to resettle 25,000 refugees over the span of 10 weeks. Voters will forgive him if he breaks this pledge by simply committing to a plan for their resettlement within his initial deadline.

It’s not a matter of security, as right-wingers like Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall make it out to be. As Ishaan Tharoor of the Washington Post pointed out, each identified suspect of the Paris terror was an EU national. Similarly, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the Parliament Hill shooter of 2014, was a Canadian national.

Even if there are killers lurking in refugee camps across the Middle East, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the main agency responsible for resettling refugees, has an extensive background check protocol to determine suitability.

Short of turning Canada into a police state, there isn’t much anyone can do to prevent immigrants or “old stock Canadians” alike from engaging in senseless violence.

The real issue with Trudeau’s resettlement plan is one of being able to provide sufficiently for all these refugees.

“It can be done. That’s not the issue. But we’ve got wait-lists for language classes, for example, of six to 10 months in certain cities. We don’t have trauma support programs in place,” Chris Friesen of Canadian Immigration Settlement Services told the CBC.

“Reconsider the timeframe, keep the number, but do it over to 2016 … Providing more time for this large resettlement movement will lead to better settlement outcomes,” Friesen said.

Mario Calla of Lifeline Syria, the main organization facilitating the intake of Syrian refugees, is naturally sympathetic to Trudeau’s goal, but agrees with Friesen that the timeframe should be extended.

“It’s still a massive movement. Don’t forget: even the processing takes time. There are security checks, medical and criminal checks,” he said, indicating that a few extra months would make his job much less daunting.

Lifeline Syria’s project manager Alexandra Kotyk said the organization has been overwhelmed by calls of support. Even if many people are wary of Trudeau’s self-imposed deadline, they are still broadly supportive of bringing refugees to Canada.

Compare that with the U.S., where 26 governors have said they will refuse to permit the resettlement of any Syrian refugees in their state. They’re all Republican.

Meanwhile, the GOP presidential candidates are trying to outdo each other in exploiting the Paris tragedy to whip up the most anti-Muslim hysteria.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz said the U.S. should only allow Christian refugees, because “there is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.” Ditto Jeb Bush.

Frontrunner Donald Trump holds similar views on Syrian refugees as he does on illegal Mexican immigrants – send ‘em back to where they came from. He doesn’t appear to be suffering in the polls for either stance.

On the other hand, even the Conservatives in Canada haven’t taken such an extreme view on the subject. They want to slow the process down, or reduce the numbers, but no one denies the significance of the cause.

Canada can and should set an example for the rest of the world on refugee intake, as we did in the past for Vietnamese, Ugandan and Kosovar migrants. But we should do so in a responsible way. One that doesn’t play into the kneejerk xenophobia on prominent display south of the border.