Why are Canadians having reservations about bringing in refugees?

Pradip Rodrigues

When the body of 3-year-old Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi washed ashore in Turkey, the picture went viral and the boy’s father blamed Canada for the tragedy. Europeans by and large went on a guilt trip and rolled out the metaphorical red carpet to Syrian and other refugees. Over a million refugees are expected in Europe by the end of the Syrian reyear, such an overwhelming number is straining Europe socially, culturally and politically. This tolerance and warm welcome was in part made possible by that haunting image Alan Kurdi. Canada at the time was in the midst of an election and that picture put the ruling Conservatives on the defensive and gave the Liberals an edge. The Conservatives, citing security and the ability to absorb large number of refugees offered to take in 5,000 refugees over a longer period of time. The Liberals who had promised to bring in 25,000 refugees by the end of 2015 and weren’t averse to bring in more in the future were seen as humanists on the right side of history. Then last Friday, the Paris was hit by terrorism, one of the suspects is confirmed to have entered as a refugee through Greece. Suddenly Canadians everywhere are sounding worried and slightly apprehensive. Now what if last Friday’s deadly Paris attacks were to happen a week or two before Canadians went to the poll? Would the election outcome have been different or would perhaps the Liberals not have won so convincingly.
Even Liberal voters are re-thinking our refugee policy

What’s the word on the street?

Over the weekend, I spoke to half a dozen proud Liberal supporters who not so long ago believed the Conservatives were masters at fear mongering and were over-blowing concerns over security. Not that they do not want to help as many genuine Syrian refugees there are out there, but they want to be assured that terrorists or those with terrorist leanings don’t end up on our shores. Europe is vulnerable to home-grown terrorists, thousands of second-generation children of previous waves of refugees have joined ISIS in Syria. Over 130 Canadian Jihadists are currently known to be fighting for ISIS in Syria and yes, most of them may well return to avail of free medicals and then return to battle. Some may even decide to stay and fight here instead. All these fears were articulated by the Conservatives during the election campaign but most Canadians in the media and those eternal optimists I know who detested ex- PM Stephen Harper more than they did Canadian jihadists were willing to overlook any security concerns. All it took was one terrorist attack in Paris for many well-meaning Canadians to be jolted out of their Kool Aid induced stupor and ask some legitimate questions.

Why are many Canadian immigrants worried about bringing in refugees?

I spoke to a Chinese- Canadian Sunday who told me of a petition being sent by a section of Liberal supporters in his community urging the government to go slow on bringing in refugees so quickly given the events in Paris. “How can they do adequate security checks on the background of individuals coming here when they can’t go into Syria or have agents verify what is being told to them? It will come down to just taking their word for it and asking fellow refugees. And also, there are no records kept on these refugees, many of them are angry and may want to go back one day to fight. Then what happens?” he said.

What worries South Asians?

Many South Asian Liberal supporters are overwhelmingly against the idea of bringing in so many refugees citing concerns about security and the economy. Spending around one billion dollars  to re-settle refugees at a time when our economy is barely growing is causing some unease. More so our deficit and unemployment rate is rising and the indisputable fact that it will take years before refugees are able to fend for themselves. Not all these refugees are professionals who can ease into the workplace, many of them will have to make do with low-paying jobs which would prove to be inadequate to rent an apartment and raise their families in cities like Toronto and Vancouver where most of them will end up moving to anyway.
One South Asian who mind you, came to Canada claiming ‘refugee’ status years ago is of the opinion that we aren’t ready to bring in more refugees until we can ensure that our own newcomers and refugees are settled in.
Suddenly Republican candidate Donald Trump’s idea of buying land in Syria and looking after refugees there doesn’t sound so ludicrous after all. As countries like Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq to name a few continue to hemorrhage population, it presents a logistic and demographic nightmare for the West. Even if Canada were to take in 100,000 Syrian refugees annually for the next ten years, it would not make much of a difference given the sheer scale of this human tragedy. While there may well be many sunny days ahead of us, we must all be prepared for a few dark ones that seem certain to come our way.

Pradip Rodrigues started out as a journalist at Society magazine, part of the Magna Group in Mumbai. He wrote extensively on a variety of subjects. He later moved to the Times of India where he was instrumental in starting the now defunct E-times, a television magazine. He conceptualized Bombay Times and became its first assistant editor where he handled features and page three. Since coming to Canada in 2000, he has freelanced for newspapers and magazines in India and written autobiographies for seniors.

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