How do we want to remember our nation in times of global crisis?
Nina Grossman, News Editor
On Oct. 15, Peer Diversity Education (PDE) set up a demonstration by the West Gate. Students were given a suitcase and a choice of hypothetical items or people (for example, mom, siblings, pets, running shoes, money and food etc.) A timer was started for 20 seconds, and students had to make the impossible decision as to what 6 items would be going in their suitcase. After realizing they had left out something vital, students had to fill out an application to come into Canada, and most were denied. “We’re doing this to show the human side of the refugee crisis,” said PDE volunteer Jennifer Hupalo.
In the midst of a federal election, the potential influx of Syrian refugees has become more of a policy issue than a human crisis; polarizing the country on its feelings about immigration. Putting aside the fact that almost every one of us is an immigrant ourselves, this type of thinking has had us lose sight of the real issue: millions of forcibly displaced people in the world looking for safe refuge.
Our country is having an identity crisis. Economic concerns, environmental policies and talks of healthcare and education changes are among many hot topics on the minds of Canadians. With a fiery federal election campaign that has had no shortage of surprising party platforms and large-scale dividing controversies, Canada is being forced to take a look in the mirror and decide exactly what kind of country it wants to be.
Now Canada along with the rest of the world is faced with the current Syrian refugee crisis, and our country seems to be sinking into its shell with alleged economic and security concerns creating bureaucratic barriers for Syrian refugee intake not to mention allegations that Stephen Harper’s government was vetting Syrian refugee files earlier this year. Harper denies that any political staff vetted the cases; claiming the audits were done to ensure “policy objectives.”
According to American organization Mercy Corps, over four million Syrians have fled the country since anti-government protests became violent in 2011. Approximately 16 million Syrians are in need of assistance both inside and outside the country, and it’s estimated that the civil war has killed at least 220,000 people, half of whom are civilians.
Canadians have known about this crisis for a long time, but public opinion underwent a dramatic shift after pictures surfaced of a drowned Syrian child washed ashore in Turkey. Three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, his five-year old brother, Galip and their mother, Rehan died trying to reach safety with relatives in Canada. Sadly their story is not uncommon but the disturbing image led many Canadians to take notice of an ongoing issue.
Politics aside, the refugee crisis is a pressing and timely matter. In a piece for the Globe and Mail, Ron Atkey, law professor at York University, says that there should be a program in place to create more efficiency and “to process refugees in a timely manner and address security concerns.” He suggests “a special program focusing on selecting families and those with Canadian connections to minimize and possibly eliminate any potential problem of security risks from this refugee group.”
In August the Federation of Canadian Municipalities passed a unanimous recommendation to coordinate efforts of cities across Canada in order to increase the efforts of local initiatives. According to a news release from the federation, this entails a task force on refugee resettlement to work with local governments.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi has expressed his hopes for Calgary to support incoming refugees. Speaking with Calgary Herald reporters Nenshi said, “I’m very confident that over the last three weeks what we’ve heard from the existing government (and) from the opposition parties means that this is going to get better.”
The Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS) has been involved in refugee resettlement in Calgary and Southern Alberta for over 35 years and are the largest immigrant serving agency in the province. Patricia Gallagher is the operations manager and says that the immigration issues are nothing new. “We have been dealing with this crisis since it began three years ago.”
Gallagher says that the organization has 375 Syrian refugee’s pending immigration to Alberta and awaiting processing by the Canadian Embassy in Lebanon, which can take up to twelve months. CCIS has asked citizenship and immigration Canada to speed up the processing of privately sponsored refugee applications, but the federal government is yet to take action.
Gallagher wants to see faster processing, but says she understands that there is a large and complex issue at hand, and rehoming millions of people is not necessarily a solution to an even bigger problem. “People shouldn’t actually have to leave their homes.”
This mass immigration is a result of a volatile war-torn country and working towards peace in troubled nations will ensure that there are less global immigration crises. For now though, there are millions of people who want nothing more than safety and security.
Federal policy will determine the amount and the pace at which refugees are accepted into the country, but Mayor Nenshi wants Calgary to be ready for the refugees when they get here. “…When the policy stuff gets better, we at the community level have to be ready and we have to make sure these people have every opportunity for success when they arrive,” he said.
“[A]s human beings we should do our best to provide as much sanctuary as we can for those people who can get away. I say we should do that because these people are human and deserve that consideration, and because we are human and ought to act in that way.” (Stanley Knowles, MP, House of Commons, 9 July 1943)