Refugees and migrants

COLUMN: Refusing refugees rooted in more than fear

Those who say Canada should not accept Syrian refugees should look deeper into the subconscious, writes Lance Peverley.

They say it’s about our safety.

Yet, somehow, it feels so much more than that.

I agree it should be about keeping us secure. In the weeks ahead, we’re about to invite 25,000 new residents to our country, and little is now known about them other than that their paperwork indicates they’re from Syria.

Most, I presume, have had far greater conflict in their lives than you and I.

Many, I assume, will want to ingratiate themselves with their new neighbours.

And all, I hope, would be welcome.

Hope, however, is a fickle word. Mine was stronger just one week ago. Now, instead of a warm welcome, I’m hearing from my current countrymen more and more complex calculations explaining away why we should deny entry to those seeking refuge from terrorists.

Some bring up their differing faiths and cultures, others bring up our lack of space.

Most, I’m told, are motivated by fear.

My fear is that it is something more sinister.

For those who truly want to reject outright these strangers – but don’t consider yourself xenophobic – I implore you to look a little deeper into your subconscious and ask why.

Perhaps it’s because you fear what you’ve heard about their religious beliefs. If that’s the case, I think I can begin to understand – after all, it’s likely that you and I are not in complete agreement over our religious beliefs either. But I have to wonder if you picked the right society to live in.

To varying degrees across this country, we are multicultural. And no matter which point in your family history the decision was made to move here, our society will evolve – like most developing communities – to become even more multicultural, with or without you.

Perhaps it’s because you fear the terrorists themselves.

In that case, again, I understand. But I have to ask why you think you’re any safer living in your current community, presumably alongside strangers who didn’t arrive with legal refugee status.

Crimes happen, far more in number than our police and courts can adequately deal with. And if you peruse the docket, you’ll indeed find ethnic names – including, most likely, your own ethnicity. Pointedly, if you spot only names of a specific heritage, I’d suggest you’ve programmed your mind to selectively screen what you see.

As for our lack of space, I often think about this argument as I’m driving out of town. Forty minutes in just about any direction, and I see land available – if not prebuilt communities – to house newcomers.

When I think of the committed 25,000, I imagine about 5,000 more than the population of tiny White Rock. Surely we could recreate a community finding six or seven square kilometres somewhere between Tofino and St. John’s. Are we really such a cash-poor country that we can’t create a few even smaller villages on government land?

None of this is to suggest we open our gates en masse to those seeking refuge.

We need a screening process that we literally all can live with. It must be rigorous and potentially uncomfortable for each individual who passes through, no matter how heartless that sounds, particularly given the ages and experiences these victims of warfare have endured leading up to what I hope will find them permanent residence.

It needs to be methodical and comprehensive. And now, in this seemingly smaller terror-filled world – exemplified by last week’s horrific murders in Paris and Beirut – it needs to be matched for anybody of any nationality seeking to come here, whether as a refugee, a landed immigrant or a new Canadian.

Anything less would be foolhardy.

But to say ‘no’ at the outset, before any man, woman or child is examined, I question your motive.

Do you really believe that your safety trumps theirs?

Lance Peverley is the editor of Peace Arch News.

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