January 17, 2018 dan@danherman.ca

Our role to play in the world’s refugee crisis

The image of Alan Kurdi, the three year old Syrian boy who died alongside his five year-old brother and mother, while escaping from Syria is heartbreaking. As a father of two young boys myself there are no words for this. That Canadians tried to support their path to Canada but were rejected by the Canadian government is maddening and deserves more than moral outrage. We must immediately open our country to the thousands of real refugees fleeing from such conflicts.

The incumbent Conservative Party’s plan to welcome just 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next four years is woefully insufficient. While our country is not without economic challenges, we have a moral obligation to help those in need.

Years ago we did so and we have benefited significantly as a result.

In 1979 and 1980 Canada welcomed over 60,000 refugees fleeing repression and violence in Vietnam and southeast Asia. My first boss back in 1996, Phong Nguyen, was one of them. He arrived in Sudbury with his wife Phu with just a grocery-store plastic bag of possessions. Phong got his start washing dishes at Swiss Chalet but within a decade he owned his own restaurant. When I first went to work for Phong I knew nothing of the history of Vietnam’s boat people. When I left two years later to attend university I had learned, through snippets of conversations, about the horrors he left behind and the life-changing opportunity he was given when a church in Sudbury sponsored his refugee application.

While Phong passed away a few years ago his children are building successful lives in Canada. They, like the other 220,000 Vietnamese Canadians who call Canada home, are a product of our desire to help and a willingness on the part of both government and the public to integrate those newcomers into our society.

Today we must act to help resettle others in need in Canada, no matter whether they come from Syria, Myanmar or elsewhere.

The majority of us in Canada live exceptionally privileged lives in this country. While there is certainly a cost to our generosity, it is the right thing to do and will pay economic dividends in the future.

And to be sure, bringing 50,000 or more refugees to Canada is just the start. We must ensure that we have a system of language training, of internships and of social and economic integration that helps transition these newcomers. This will require collaboration and partnership across public and private circles and across levels of government. None of this is simple. But neither is sitting on our hands while people die elsewhere.

It’s easy to lament what happens far away. It’s far tougher to act.  Let’s challenge ourselves to do so by asking the candidates for election in October what their plans are to bring 50,000 or more refugees to Canada. And let’s hold them to account to making it happen on October 20th.

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