Eclectic Affinities: The moral imperative to accept refugees

Op-eds Opinions

Canada has a moral imperative to accept refugees. It’s actually incredible that this article has to be written.

Notice that it’s times like these that the politically ignorant and the formerly uninterested suddenly have things to say with regards to the political process. It turns out that my Facebook feed needed some cleaning out anyhow (and I opted to unfriend rather than to unfollow). Imagine if the Internet and social media was used as a respectable forum for debate, and not a place to monger fear.

Not only do some people not have a heart, and not see Syrians as fellow human beings worth saving, but the rhetoric has entered a terrible low. For example, I saw one post that said “We’ve been at peace with Japan since 1945. Time to make peace with ISIS,” superimposed over a picture of a mushroom cloud in case the aforementioned ignorant couldn’t make out the message. It’s even more shameful when someone you know spreads or approves of this sort of genocidal hate.

That said, there are a lot of Canadians who are not this bigoted but hold legitimate concerns. The word “legitimate” is not used lightly. Think of events in the last year, like the recent attack in Paris, the assault on the Charlie Hebdo journalists, not to mention the encompassing culture of fear that inundates people on a daily basis. Without some strong fortitude, it is hard to overcome these messages. Without investment of time and compassion, it’s easy to fall into concerns that some oriental horde is coming here because they hate us.

Although one can perhaps sympathize with the origins of this view, they are unfounded. As Scott Watson, a University of Victoria political science professor who researches migration and refugee policy, told CBC News, “you couldn’t pick a worse way to infiltrate a country than arriving through a refugee camp. The wait lasts years. For some it never ends.”

More legitimate concerns include whether Canada can economically handle accepting refugees, or if they will get what they need to survive; Watson points out that resources may be strained by budget cuts. Apprehension here is also valid, but these reasons should not be used to block refugees.

Just because it’s hard obviously does not mean it’s not worth doing. The number of lives that could be saved and improved is incredible. Also, consider the future. How will later generations label our reaction? Do we want our actions to be looked back on in shame, like so many parts of Canadian history? Like many immigrant waves to the continent before them, watch these refugees rise to become a successful and integral part of Canadian civil society.

Warsan Shire’s short and powerful poem captures the zeitgeist perfectly: “later that night/ I held an atlas in my lap/ ran my fingers across the whole world/ and whispered/ where does it hurt?/ it answered/ everywhere/ everywhere/ everywhere.” Canada needs to take up its morally imperative role in helping the world heal.