It suddenly became the biggest issue of the Canadian federal election, sparked by a photograph of a dead Syrian boy whose family had supposedly desired to emigrate Canada. He (and other family members) had drowned trying to get from Turkey to Greece.
According to the news media, the family had applied to for refugee status in Canada and had been rejected. Perhaps, it was suggested, if the government had acted, he, his mother and brother would all still be alive. The relentless demands of the 24-hour news cycle meant that the story received a lot of exposure, even though it wasn’t true. Certainly it became a political football – the cruel government shutting out the poor Syrian refugees.
The various political parties bent over backwards with promises of what they would do to help Syrians, if elected. Ten thousand refuges immediately said one. Twenty-five thousand over the next three years said the other. The governing party trumped the 4,000 Syrians and 10,000 Iraqis who have come here as refugees in recent years.
There was a lot of mention of the past, of Canada’s willingness to take in the so-called “boat people” who fled Vietnam at the conclusion of the war there in 1975. Nobody talked about logistics. Maybe somebody should.
I will lay aside the issue of whether Canada has any obligation to accept refugees from a conflict half-way around the world. I can make a very convincing argument that it does not, but as a Christian I find such an argument unacceptable, no matter how logical. I am my brother’s keeper. I may not always be very good at that, but I accept my responsibility.
Someone though needs to crunch some numbers. Canada accepts about 250,000 immigrants each year, more or less. These are people who for various reasons wish to live here, sometimes to be reunited with family, sometimes in search of a better life. They plan to come here, and in most cases have laid those plans long before they arrive. There is a period of adjustment, but they plan for success.
Refugees are in a different situation. They are fleeing from as opposed to going to. Canada is not their first choice; if it were at all possible they would prefer to return home, but it is not safe there. Frequently it looks like it may never be safe to go back, so they have to look for somewhere else to call home. Their lives are in chaos. The transition to a new country, a new culture, may not be all that smooth.
Which brings us to Canada as a destination of choice. Most people don’t know much about Canada, except that it is stable, prosperous and cold. I think prospective immigrants and refugees understand the stable and prosperous. I don’t think anyone understands the cold until they experience their first Canadian winter.
So everyone wants to come here, without knowing much about the place. How are we going to make it happen? Shoudl we make it happen? Are there other, better alternatives?