Refugees – Cold Hard Facts

He speaks with the authority of someone who has been there. I didn’t think to ask if I could quote him, so I won’t give his name. He’s a relief worker in the middle east.

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These children were driven from their homes by ISIS and have been living in a refugee camp for more than a year.

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We were having dinner, and the discussion turned to the refugee crisis in Iraq and Syria, not a surprising topic given that we were in northern Iraq at the time. It was a hot-button topic (and election issue) in Canada, something much discussed and debated. The new government has promised to bring an additional 25,000 Syrian refugees to our country by the end of the year. A Cabinet committee has been struck to make that happen.

‎The relief worker was telling me about the refugee situation, and specifically about Canadian efforts, describing the previous government’s attempts to open our doors. Canada was looking too take 2,000 refugees immediately, he said, but in all the camps could only find 600 who were willing to come. Apparently we are not the destination of choice for many people.

This comes as a blow to the ego, I am sure, for many Canadians who think we have the greatest country in the world. I agree with that assessment, but that may be because I was born and raised here. I am not blind though to my country’s faults, especially our weather. 

When I have visited Iraq I have been asked on occasion about life in Canada. People here are friendly and curious; they want to learn. A couple have asked me about emigrating, about whether I thought Canada would welcome them. That’s when I bring up our climate. I like to think Canadians are a welcoming people. Our weather though is definitely hostile to newcomers.

They have winter in Iraq, just like they do in Canada. They know what snow is. It gets cold, just like it does in Canada. Or so I am told. So I press a little more deeply.

How cold does it get in winter, I ask my hosts? Very cold, I am told, the thermometer can drop below zero, Celsius,  sometimes as low as minus five.‎ (Later I look it up, the record low for the area is minus six.)

I explain that in Ottawa the third week of January is usually the coldest week of the year. That week it is not uncommon for the high temperature in the day to be minus twenty, the overnight low, minus thirty-five. I don’t mention the minus fifty wind chill.

Then there is the snow. I ask how high it got, and was shown a position that would be mid-calf for me. Call that a little over twenty centimetres. In Ottawa, I explain, we can have thir‎ty centimetres in one snowfall, and the average annual snowfall is 155 centimetres. The shocked look when I had mentioned temperature was intensified. (I also looked up the snowfall for the area at the same time as my temperature research. They average one snowy day annually according to Wikipedia. No need for any snowploughs.)  There was no more talk of moving from Iraq to Canada.

So as Canada looks to take in more refugees from Syria I have to wonder how successful the effort will be. It is one thing to flee a war-torn country ‎to a refugee camp. It’s quite another to leave those camps, and a culture you are at least familiar with, for the frozen confines of the Great White North.  The government has set some ambitious targets, but they may be disappointed at how few people want to take them up on their offer. ‎

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