Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Syrian Refugee

What can I say that others haven't already said?

Most of my life there has been conflict around the world with many people fleeing and seeking refuge.  Lately Syria has generated the most wanting to flee.  Most have gone to nearby Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan, but increasingly expanding to Europe and North America.  Refugees have always fanned the flames of fear, but now we are talking Muslims and that seems to up the ante quite a bit.

Simply I believe we are obligated.  Furthermore we are beneficiaries.

We are very complicit in the problem.  We tend to disassociate ourselves from our history when it is uncomfortable.  The Mideast, at one time was the basket of civilization, however it has been surpassed by Europe and the so-called West.  We discovered oil there that was critical for our life style to continue.  We got involved in wars and regime changes and afterwards had the power to draw boundaries for our convenience.  We decided to keep the price of oil (and gas at the pump) reasonable so would support dictators who were only too happy to suppress their citizens.

We gradually learned of climate change, but mostly dismissed it in favor of continuing our comfortable system.  One of the effects is to increase droughts.  Droughts in turn force demographic changes--rural residents move to urban areas--prices go up--jobs go down and more stress creating violence.  The result is a lot of people fleeing for their lives and to re-start their history.

It suits some people to fan fear.  If one is running for political office (and sees foreigners as expendable) it could be helpful to portray the hated party in power as endangering your welfare.  As the refugees are painted as terrorists, politicians try to out-do one another with their condemnation.   Republicans are transparent in this political strategy, but they are not alone.  Fortunately there are a few sane people with influence.

There certainly is danger, but it occurs no matter what choices are made.  We can mitigate the dangers if we choose not to panic.  Sitting in North America we don't have the danger of poor Syrian (and Iraqi, etc) refugees crossing our borders overnight.  Other nations (which we consider allies) have been taking the burden of dealing with unasked for refugees.  We have the opportunity to sort through them and pick who we want.  We will also be relieving a stressful situation for our allies.  Time is a factor in that while we try to get things perfect at our end, others are suffering.  Also consider this flood of Syrians as a brain drain.

Danger is always relative.  There is always the danger that an airplane will drop out of the sky on top of you.  We don't get paralyzed by that.  In the U.S. they don't get upset about the number of gun related homicides and suicides (at least not enough to legislate against it).  So far all statistics on the matter show that refugees are not a big risk for terrorism, although other types of foreign visitors do represent a higher risk.

There is a very delicate problem involving many factions warring against different enemies needing to be sorted out.  A recruiting device of ISIS and other terrorist organizations is that we hate Muslims.  Many of us have fallen into that trap and don't see it.  Those who have become vocal in their fear and hatred send a signal.  Muslims are not a lot different from the rest of us.

In 1956, after the Hungarian Revolution I was old enough to understand a bit and see some of the effects.  There was no concern of Communist sympathizers infiltrating our society.  I went to elementary school with some refugees and over the years have encountered other Hungarians who came over as refugees or their children.  I remember talking to one who helped develop Canadian basketball.  I worked with another and laughed at his jokes.  It turns out a cousin of my wife married a fellow who came over as an infant with his parents concerned his crying and coughing would alert authorities.  These are just a few examples that affected me personally and many Canadians of my age could think of more.

After Vietnam fell to the enemy Canada opened up its doors to Asian refugees.  The first time I heard the term "boat people" referring to refugees.  I have had a few as neighbors, as vendors at the Hamilton Farmer's Market and have enjoyed going to their restaurants.  I have heard of a friend of friends who literally lost a brother fleeing by boat.  Recently as a deputy returning officer during the Federal election I was struck at the enthusiasm of Vietnamese to vote.

I have earlier recounted an experience with a Syrian (not sure if he was a refugee) who fixed a problem with my car tire that had eluded my normal resources.

The point is foreigners add to our lives.  It is easy enough to find stories that reflect the desperation and the danger, but we also learn about refugees that are showing gratitude.  One Syrian refugee  was recently reported providing food to the homeless in Berlin, Germany.

Justin Trudeau recently said "our strength is diversity."  While others may cower in fear we can shake hands and converse with many different perspectives.  Before too long we will be adapting to and enjoying new ideas.  If we choose to close our doors or segregate newcomers we are losers.

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