Tough­est part of re­set­tle­ment still ahead

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Tim Harper Tim Harper is a na­tional affairs writer for Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices. tharper@thes­tar.ca Twit­ter:@nut­graf1

“(The) in­creased flow must lead to in­creased vig­i­lance. This coun­try has shown much com­pas­sion and good­will to those ar­riv­ing on our shores, but that com­pas­sion will inevitably get a tougher test.”

Much of the political and na­tional con­ver­sa­tion on the Trudeau govern­ment’s am­bi­tious Syr­ian refugee pro­gram has re­volved around tar­gets and time­lines. But that has ob­scured a larger truth.

As the coun­try’s 10,000th Syr­ian refugee ar­rives in Canada this week, the tough­est part of this pro­ject for the Lib­eral govern­ment lies ahead.

For the first time, govern­ment-spon­sored refugees have topped the num­bers of pri­vately spon­sored refugees, and an­other 15,000 dis­placed Syr­i­ans — a mix of both pro­grams — will ar­rive by the end of Fe­bru­ary.

Mil­i­tary bases are stand­ing by to po­ten­tially house govern­ment-spon­sored refugees in the dead of a Cana­dian win­ter and this is a much more vul­ner­a­ble, at-risk group than those that have the pri­vately spon­sored sup­port sys­tem await­ing their ar­rival.

This coun­try, be­cause of ge­og­ra­phy, some pru­dent plan­ning de­spite the rush and the abil­ity to pick and choose its new ar­rivals, can le­git­i­mately look on our ef­fort with pride. We are now stand­ing vir­tu­ally alone in not hav­ing to face down some type of refugee back­lash.

But as their num­bers swell, it will not take much to spark one. There can be no per­cep­tion that hous­ing, school­ing or job queues are jumped and the re­set­tle­ment ef­fort has to con­tinue rel­a­tively seam­lessly so that anx­i­eties are not height­ened on ei­ther side. There are those who want this govern­ment pro­ject to fail and they are lurk­ing, on so­cial me­dia and email in­boxes, wait­ing with matches to ig­nite that spark.

Cana­di­ans have con­trib­uted to win­ter cloth­ing drives and have wel­comed refugees into their homes. It has taken on the trap­pings of a na­tional pro­ject.

But Euro­pean coun­tries, with­out that abil­ity to pick-and­choose, have been deal­ing with a mas­sive tide of mi­grants with no end in sight. Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion, 1,700 mi­grants have ar­rived by sea in Europe each day so far in 2016.

In Ger­many, An­gela Merkel’s govern­ment is chang­ing laws to make it eas­ier to de­port for­eign na­tion­als, in­clud­ing asy­lum seek­ers, in the wake of a mas­sive num­ber of as­saults and sex­ual as­saults of women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve.

More than 500 crim­i­nal com­plaints have been filed, 40 per cent of them for sex­ual as­sault. All the sus­pects iden­ti­fied so far are im­mi­grants, but they are not nec­es­sar­ily part of a wave of 1.1 mil­lion mi­grants who flooded into Ger­many last year.

That doesn’t seem to mat­ter. The dam­age is done. Im­mi­grants were beaten in a demon­stra­tion Sun­day night in Ger­many and Merkel has ad­mit­ted Europe has lost con­trol of the refugee cri­sis.

A sim­i­lar case of mass sex­ual as­sault by im­mi­grants has come to light in Swe­den.

In the U.S., fears and a back­lash have been stoked by can­di­dates for the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion and state gov­er­nors only too happy to pig­gy­back on a wave of xeno­pho­bia.

There is no di­rect line to be drawn be­tween those in­ci­dents and at­ti­tudes in Canada, but op­po­nents of the in­flux will be only too happy to draw one if given half a chance.

The govern­ment must also be care­ful about the sin­gle-minded fo­cus on the refugee pro­gram be­cause an abuse of an im­mi­gra­tion spon­sor­ship pro­gram ap­pears to have taken place right un­der its nose.

Re­ports Tues­day that some ap­pli­cants seek­ing to spon­sor par­ents or grand­par­ents to this coun­try paid up to $400 to have couri­ers en­sure they’re at the front of the line of a pro­gram in which de­mand far out­strips space are caus­ing con­cern.

The com­mon theme is fair­ness — for those here seek­ing re­uni­fi­ca­tion and for Cana­di­ans who are await­ing ser­vices that should not go first to refugees.

Govern­ment of­fi­cials ac­knowl­edge the refugee in­take has moved into a dif­fer­ent phase, but they main­tain the chal­lenge is the re­set­tle­ment ef­fort, not the makeup of the more vul­ner­a­ble govern­ment-spon­sored refugees.

If they are not moved to proper shel­ter quickly, they could re­act un­favourably, as any­one would. With­out a sup­port net­work wait­ing, their lan­guage skills here could fal­ter.

The govern­ment also knows there is a wait­ing list for proper hous­ing for those al­ready in the coun­try.

Their needs can­not be over­taken by refugee needs.

When there is an in­ci­dent, as there was over the week­end in Van­cou­ver, govern­ment min­is­ters prop­erly and quickly con­demned a pep­per spray at­tack on refugees.

By mov­ing het­ero­sex­ual sin­gle men down the list of refugees to be ac­cepted, the Lib­er­als may have un­wit­tingly made such as­saults less likely here. Vul­ner­a­bil­ity, not cul­tural con­cerns, led to that pri­or­i­ti­za­tion.

The first point about Cana­dian so­ci­ety prospec­tive ar­rivals are told is that men and women are equal.

“They have the same rights and are treated with the same level of re­spect,’’ the im­mi­gra­tion web­site says.

Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter John McCal­lum says that once the taps are turned on, the num­bers of refugees head­ing into this coun­try will flow.

That in­creased flow must lead to in­creased vig­i­lance. This coun­try has shown much com­pas­sion and good­will to those ar­riv­ing on our shores, but that com­pas­sion will inevitably get a tougher test.

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