Manipulating refugee crisis
The Harper government has long resisted bringing in Syrian refugees, an overwhelming majority of whom are Muslims. But it has been keen on fast-tracking Christians, Yazidis and others from Syria and Iraq.
Its rationale for the first is that with so many extremist militias operating there, terrorists could sneak in masquerading as refugees. Its explanation for the second is that the Islamic State is targeting minorities.
Both are reasonable propositions. But they also hide the government’s terrible record on refugees and provide a cover for bigotry, that of the Harperites themselves or of the Conservative base of fundamentalist Christians and other right-wingers to whom the government caters.
Harper is ingenuous when he rejects “opening the floodgates and airlifting tens of thousands of refugees out of terrorist war zones without proper process.”
Who is advocating opening the floodgates? He has merely been asked to do more than he has.
Who is suggesting that refugees not be screened for security? All asylum seekers are vetted by Canadian intelligence agents working in the region, in cooperation with the security services of our allies.
Who is arguing that refugees must be rescued only from camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan? A majority of the four million Syrian refugees in exile are scattered in cities and rural areas across the region.
Harper is pandering to the dangerous stereotype that all Muslims are potential terrorists, whereas non-Muslims may be squeaky clean. In fact, Christian and other non-Muslims have also been involved with the many ruthless militias in Syria and Iraq. They all need to be checked out, as security experts have said.
As for cherry-picking Christian refugees, the Harper government has been coy.
Throughout last fall, it remained mum on rumours that it was at war with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which refuses to discriminate on the basis of religion. Immigration Minister Chris Alexander kept dodging reporters. On Dec. 12, two dozen groups, including notably the Canadian Council of Churches, said that “it is completely unacceptable and, in fact, irresponsible to discriminate against refugees on the basis of religion.” Amnesty International’s Alex Neve said government shenanigans were “in some way, shape or form about the fact that the majority of Syrian refugees are Muslim.”
It was not until January that Ottawa quietly let out, in background briefing papers, its preference for non-Muslims, as well as women who faced sexual abuse, and gays and lesbians, as the government’s three foreign policy priorities. And it was only last week that Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney fleshed out the details.
He told CBC News that the Yazidis, Druze, Syriac Catholics, Chaldean Christians and Ismaili Muslims — victims of the Islamic State — are reluctant to seek refuge in the UN-operated camps because of Muslim hostility. They thus do not have access to international humanitarian aid. So Ottawa wants to help them (perhaps through the $100 million fund announced since). More crucially, it wants to fund the “many private sponsorship organizations in Canada who have long lists of (minority refugees) that they’d like to sponsor but do not have adequate financial backers.”
The Syrian Canadian community is outraged at Kenney’s suggestion that Muslim Syrian refugees in camps are discriminating against non-Muslims, an allegation without independent verification.
Malaz Sebai, a Syrian Canadian working with Lifeline Syria, a group trying to sponsor Syrian refugees, told me: “We’ve been asking for family reunification for two years but the government hasn’t budged. Now they are giving priority to certain groups. This contravenes Canadian values, and all notions of equality and fair treatment.”
Kenney was also instrumental in giving priority to Christians among the 20,000 Iraqi refugees brought to Canada.
As Neve says, “Clearly there’s nothing wrong at all with offering protection to refugees from persecuted ethnic and religious minorities. Such groups continue to experience serious human rights violations.
“It is also clear, however, that Syria’s majority Sunni Arab Muslim population has suffered greatly, both before and during the four plus years of the country’s terrible civil war.
“This is not a human rights crisis that simply comes down to the majority having brutalized the minority. Virtually everyone has suffered and continues to suffer.”
UNHCR is the best judge of who is most vulnerable.