Thursday, September 3, 2015

Photos that may yet change the world

As a father and grandfather I, together with much of the world, was shocked by the photos of the body of a three-year-old boy washed up on a Turkish beach. I was saddened by the inhumanity of a world that callously allows this to happen. This posting offers  a few of my thoughts on the issue of refugees. Because of the complexity of the issue, I intend to write more next time. This is my memorial to this little boy.

A picture is worth a thousand words, people say. In this case, a picture may be worth a million words. This series of pictures that have shocked the entire world may yet change the plight of the Syrian and other refugees who are flocking to Europe in order to flee war and terrible living conditions.

This photo -- which I am hesitant to feature but do so anyway because it has been published frequently --  has galvanized millions of people around the world into action. Everyone is now asking, "What more can we do?" The answer is a great deal!

This is not a nameless child as was first thought. We now know the name. Aylan Kurdi and his older brother, Galip, together with their mother, Rehanna, and about a dozen other people lost their lives when their boat capsized. The body of the three-year-old washed up on a Turkish beach.

This family, of whom only the father survived, were Kurdish refugees from Kobane, Syria, who had been desperately trying to emigrate to Canada. Unfortunately, like thousands of other Syrian Kurdish refugees in Turkey, the UN would not register them as refugees, the Turkish government would not grant them exit visas, and Canada would not admit them..

Aylan has an aunt in Canada who publicized this case that may yet change the world by enabling Syrian refugees to find new homes in Europe and elsewhere. A shocked world may finally be ready to admit that "Enough is enough!"

Aylan and Galip in happier times

Why were this family fleeing to Europe? Because they were desperate -- so desperate that they trusted an unstable boat and fake life jackets rather than face the deplorable situation at home. According to the aunt in Canada, the family wanted to end up in that country. Unfortunately, they did not get further than the shores of Turkey.

The Canadian government has not exactly thrown out the welcome mat for refugees, even though, in July 2013, then-immigration minister Jason Kenney promised that Canada would welcome 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of the following year. Canada missed that deadline.

According to the current immigration minister, Chris Alexander, Canada has accepted about 2,500 refugees from Syria, and about 20,000 from Iraq. But none of this is true. Fewer than 400 Syrians made a refugee claim in Canada in the eighteen months from January 2012 to June 2013. Only nine Syrians were resettled by the government to Canada in the first eight months of 2013. The record for 2014 and so far this year does not meet the government's goals. A mere 1,300 Syrian refugees had arrived in Canada and been granted permanent resident status by March 2015.

Contrary to some newspapers, including The Globe and Mail, Aylan's aunt was willing to sponsor the family to come to Canada, but this report is not entirely true; she could only afford to sponsor another brother. Unfortunately, she was unsuccessful in that effort, and later in asking that both of her brothers and their families would be admitted as refugees.

Prime Minister Harper claims Canada has been extremely generous in accepting refugees. The Conservative government insists that Canada accepts 10,000 refugees per year. But there are 60 million refugees globally right now, which works out to 1/60 of one per cent of the total global refugee population. A drop in the bucket!

The government also boasts that Canada settles “one out of 10 refugees” worldwide. That is an incredibly misleading figure that assumes only 100,000 of the 60 million refugees around the world are resettled each year.

Macleans magazine proves how little Canada is doing as compared to other nations:
Annually, we are letting in one quarter of one refugee for every 1,000 Canadian citizens. By contrast, Germany is expecting 800,000 new arrivals this year, or 10 per 1,000 citizens. If one compares the economic ability of a country to accept refugees, Canada is accepting one-quarter of a refugee per $1 of GDP per capita. Germany is accepting 80 times that amount, or 17.4 refugees per $1.
Sadly, these promises are almost meaningless. Canada is capable of so much more, and so much more is what is needed. Numbers rarely move us or our leaders to do great things. Sixty million is just a statistic. But we relate to people, and the image of a drowned child, lying in the surf on a Turkish beach, sent a shock of anger through the Western world. 
Macleans comes up with a proposal to the leaders of the political parties who want to become prime minister on the 19th of October:
What if Canada aspired to do one-quarter of what Germany is doing? We wouldn’t double the number of refugees we accept, or even triple. We would increase it twentyfold, from 10,000 to 200,000 per year. That would be 4.4 refugees per $1 GDP per capita, as compared to Germany’s 17.4. Not heroic, but not shameful.
This is an interesting proposal, but it only deals with Canada's possible role in this refugee crisis. What about Europe? How are they dealing with it? Will their boat capsize too as did little Aylan's boat?

Europe is in a mess of its own making: it must reconcile mobility inside the open-borders, passport-free Schengen zone with the Dublin Regulation -- the rule that an asylum-seekers must make their application in the EU country where they first arrive. Italy and Greece, for example, are economically unable to do more than they are already doing.

Only a handful of countries in the EU, led by Germany, are responding compassionately and with the humanity that his crisis deserves. Many of the other countries, such as Hungary, want to shirk their responsibility and not accept any refugees.

One can only hope that these photos will melt the hearts of politicians and ordinary people everywhere. The shock waves started by the photos are still reverberating around the world, especially in Europe which is so far bearing most of the burden posed by this massive influx.

Hungary’s nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orb├ín, proved how hard-hearted he was, even after seeing these photos, when he defended his country's exclusionary policy by warning about the danger of a massive influx of Muslims threatening Christianity. What nonsense! 

I pray that other leaders will not follow his xenophobic example, but instead display their love for these refugees. One little boy has seemingly captured the hearts of the world. May we never forget him!

      (Note: There are alternate spellings of these names)

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