Really the Best We Can Do?
When the Soviet Union crushed the Hungarian uprising of 1956, Canada responded decisively to the plight of the 200,000 refugees who fled for their lives. Back then, the Canadian population was less than half of what it is today, and yet we managed to resettle almost 40,000 victims of the hammer and sickle within our borders. We stood tall in the world as an example of what a wealthy, developed society could aspire to.
In the ensuing years, albeit on a smaller scale, Canada continued to exhibit this generous spirit, as can be seen from the following figures on refugee resettlement:
- 1979 – 4000 Vietnamese
- 1992 – 5000 Bosnians
- 1999 – 5000 Kosovar Albanians
Fast forward to today as the horrendous civil war in Syria grinds into its fourth year, leaving unimaginable devastation in its wake. Innocent Syrians find themselves defenceless against a sociopathic government, foreign militants and even their own neighbours. Millions have been tormented by chemical attacks, shootings, and kidnappings. It has been described as the largest human crisis of our generation. According to the United Nations, out of a population of 21.4 million people, 9.3 million are in need of assistance. Already, 2.6 million refugees have fled to neighbouring countries Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.
Last week, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees met with Canadian Immigration Minister Chris Alexander as part of a tour aimed at convincing international partners to help resettle 100,000 Syrian refugees, in addition to the 30,000 the UN asked countries to accept last year. The Canadian government is considering the latest UN request.
Last summer, our government committed to taking in a meagre 1,300 Syrian refugees, which consisted of 1,100 private sponsorships, and only 200 government sponsored refugees. If that’s not mean-spirited enough, until now, no more than 10 have actually arrived in Canada.
Frankly, Canada’s response to date to the humanitarian crisis in Syria can best be described as stingy and cold-hearted, and stands in sharp contrast to the warm welcome offered to the 40,000 Central Europeans almost 60 years ago. To me, it is a shameful rejoinder to a plea for hope and charity. It says much about the Canadian ethos today. One has to wonder what has changed in Canada since the 1950’s. Have we become poorer? Perhaps not materially, but certainly in spirit.
*Photo from Ottawa Citizen, May 29, 2014