6 Questions about the refugee crisis and how to answer them
How lucky we are to be born in a country we aren’t desperate to leave.
Unfortunately, many people on this earth are not that lucky but live in a dangerous environment, marked by violence, oppression and/or poverty. The recent refugee crisis makes this overtly visible.
The brutal civil war in Syria is causing the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II, even affecting Canada on the other side of the world …or is it not?
To make the complicated situation more graspable, on Thursday, November 19, UVic International used the International Education Week to organize a panel discussion about the Syrian conflict and the different responses to it.
Invited speakers included: Dr. Oliver Schmidtke from UVic’s Centre for Global Studies and Dr. Scott Watson from UVic’s Department of Political Science as well as Dr. Sabine Lehr, Immigrant Services Manager for the Inter-Cultural Association (ICA) of Greater Victoria and David Amrik Lau, Executive Director of the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS). Both Dr. Lehr and David Amrik Lau work directly with immigrants and refugees.
Next to giving basic information about the scope of the situation, the panelists aimed to refute common stereotypes and answer questions that come up in the receiving countries, including Canada, because facts are the best weapon against “worried citizens” who start every argument concerning refugees with “I’m not racist but…”
The next time you hear someone say “25,000 refugees in Canada? …by the end of February? Not with me!” – take a deep breath and ask them to take a moment. Take a moment to look at the bigger picture.
Justin Trudeau changed some of the initial plans about who is coming and when they are arriving a few days after the panel discussion. I am including the most recent facts and try to explain these new adjustments:
25,000? Isn’t that too many?
No. Syria has or, more accurately, had a population of 22.85 million. Now, nearly half of them are displaced. Approximately 7 million have moved internally from one part of Syria to another, which seems to be safe at the moment. More than 4.29 million Syrians left the country, according to current numbers from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
You see, 25,000 is just a tiny fraction of the total persons concerned and, I don’t want to brag but, Germany estimates that one million refugees will have arrived by the end of the year. Let’s say one of these figures represents 25,000 people, this is the graphic representing the ratio:
A quick reminder that Canada is 28 times as big as Germany.
…I shouldn’t brag too loudly. Sorry Merkel, but Germany is not the greatest hero in this. I mean, we have a stable economy and 82 million inhabitants. On the other hand, you have Jordan or Lebanon. These are direct neighbours of Syria and, therefore, the first places refugees may go and although small Lebanon is no rich, industrialized country, they took in the same amount of refugees as Germany. By now, a quarter of its population are refugees from war regions; they provide the best help they can with a lot less resources than Germany or Canada have available.
Therefore Canada should be perfectly able to help 25,000 Syrians.
By February? Isn’t that too quick?
After the Paris attacks, Justin Trudeau extended the deadline from the end of December 2015 to the end of February 2016 to give more time for background checks and controls. He wants to make the procedure even safer for both sides – Syrians and Canadians. As the processes have already started, approximately 40% of the refugees will arrive by the end of this year; the other landings are postponed.
Do we invite terrorists into Canada?
The aforementioned background checks that every Syrian has to pass before being able to enter Canada include a check/selection by the UNHCR, a personal interview with a delegation from the Canadian government abroad and then another screening of all available information after they arrived here. Refugees are one of the most controlled groups in the world – in addition to having a hard time traveling around freely. If someone really wants to enter a country with dangerous intentions, this is one of the least practical routes.
The USA accepted approximately 400,000 refugees from different countries over the last years (even though they don’t make such a welcoming impression at the moment, ha) and statistics have shown that two of these were suspected to have connections to terror networks while none, not a single one, zero, nada, nicht ein einzelner has committed a terror act.
And yes, one of the persons connected to the attacks in Paris carried a Syrian passport but that doesn’t automatically mean that this person is a refugee or entered the country as a refugee. Syria still has other people. Most passports that were found there are European.
Why are young, straight males (for now) excluded?
…because they are not the most vulnerable part of the population. Families, old people and LGBT people have the hardest time in the refugee camps outside the border of Syria and should therefore get help first – according to the Canadian government. This decision is, on the one hand, highly criticized because it excludes orphans and young, straight males who lost their wife and their kids, their families on the journey. It displays that some refugees are more important than the rest.
Others again say it is the best move Trudeau could have made because these young men get most likely associated with the Paris attacks, as sad as it is. Through postponing their landing, the prime minister assures that they arrive in a more welcoming surrounding than would be the case at the moment.
What do we get out of this?
Refugees will start working here in Canada. They will pay taxes. They will be members of society and the social system. Canada needs these workers. Basically, all western countries have aging societies with birth rates under two. Canada’s is 1.6 currently, which means that the population is shrinking. Without immigrants, the economy would not be able to stay stable in the long run.
Moreover, it just feels good to give something back when you know that Canada is involved in this conflict and contributing to the violence that dominates the daily life in Syria.
What can I do to help?
There are several organizations here in Greater Victoria concerned with immigrants and refugees. Two, which were present at the panel discussion at UVic, are the Inter-Cultural Association (ICA) and the Victoria Immigrant & Refugee Center Society (VIRCS).
As Syrian refugees have not arrived in Victoria yet, the main support consists of helping more people to get to a safe place. Next to the arrivals supported by the government, everyone is able to donate for a concrete person through Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program.
ICA is one of the two institutions in Victoria who coordinate this project as a Sponsorship Agreement Holder. When participating in “Sponsor a Refugee“, a person or a community secures to cover the expenses of the arrival and the basic needs during the first twelve months or until the refugee is able to sustain himself. In addition, it includes personal assistance of the newcomer, for example greeting at the airport or help with organizing tasks like opening up a bank account.
Furthermore, both organizations offer possibilities to get involved. At VIRCS, for example, you can volunteer as a teaching assistant, Cultural Bridging Host and even as a graphic designer or photographer. On the website, there is a full list of the offered positions.
Excellent post Anna. I especially liked the use of striking graphics. It sure puts a lot into perspective.
On another note, did you know that UVic History will be sponsoring a Syrian family to come to Canada? http://www.uvic.ca/refugeeresponse/home/events/history/index.php Interested folks can visit the group’s FB page at https://www.facebook.com/HistoryRefugeeCommittee to learn how they can help. There is also an on-campus fundraising auction coming up December 9th from 7 – 9:30 pm in the Student Union Building. There are really fantastic items to bid on! Check it out: https://www.facebook.com/events/182382778768659/
Well will you look at that, we made it!
Ha jokes we still have the final… f*ck. However, this is our last reflection, so cheers to that!
Our world is comprised of a myriad of stories. Wherever you go there will be no one with the same story as you. Unlike names, looks, or beliefs, your story is special to you, and you alone. That is what makes us diverse, but also, it’s a device used to bring us together.
Once upon a time, a great author by the name of, Thomas King wrote the novel called The Truth About Stories: a Native Narrative. It explores the importance and relevance stories have on human life. In the novel he eloquently phrases my experiences in the class (English 146) perfectly, in just one line. King writes, “But don’t say in the years to come that you’d lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You’ve heard it now” (119). Through the in depth analyzation of literature and the different terms in which we explored, I’ve reached a higher understanding of history and how it impacted the world around us. Langston Hughes’, I, Too and Allen Ginsberg’s, America are a prime example of what helped bring out that greater understanding. If it wasn’t for the group reading and close analyzation of these two I would have had a bland and sub-par understanding of the poems. By using the skills from class I can apply this to even more literature in future English classes.
Kenneth Burke, a Rhetorician, has a similar philosophy as Thomas King, in that they both believe that stories create a structure for human beings. Burke states that “stories are equipment for living” (293-304), and I totally agree with that! If you really think about it, we use stories in our everyday life – to have conversations and to connect with people. These stories are just segmented into smaller parts compared to books, such as, Maus by Art Spiegelman. Spiegelman tells the story of his father, a survivor of the Holocaust. This is his father’s own individual story, it is the experiences that he went through during World War II. From him sharing his individualistic story, I was able to see a glimpse of the nightmare his father experienced and the atrocious acts done by the Nazi’s. As a result, I felt as if I made a connection his father through the novel. Stories truly are capable of bringing humans together, and Spiegelman’s book is an example of that.
As we enter the final exam, and finish the course completely. I can surely speak for most of the class, that this was one hell of a ride. Ever since the first day of class with our “introductory to ourselves” sheet, we began telling our own stories. Sharing them with peers and creating new friendships through storytelling. That said, I can conclude that “stories are equipment for living” (293-304),
King, Thomas. The Truth About Stories: a Native Narrative. House of Anansi Press, 2003.
Burke, Kenneth. The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action. University of California Press, 1974.
thank you for writing this and taking your time to write this. – A Friend of the Earth