Do you come from away?
On my recent weekend vacation in New York City, I took in an off-broadway production of Come from Away at the Gerald Schoenfeld theatre. For those not familiar with the live musical, it is about the small Newfoundland town of Gander, and how their town of 7,000 people welcomed 7,000 refugees from all- over the world on 9/11.
On 9/11 when the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration closed North American airspace after the attacks in Washington, Pennsylvania and New York every plan in the sky in the area landed at the airport in Gander, NFLD.
Watching how that town reacted to welcoming strangers they did not know, in a situation that might be dangerous, could not help but remind me of our own recent situation in Cornwall with asylum seekers.
Last year, I wrote a column about the 240 asylum seekers that were housed for a little over a week at the Nav Centre. In that column I wrote that those who were criminals or bad actors would be filtered out by the federal government and that those who truly needed help, would get it and that all we had to do as hosts, was to show them the best of Canada.
A little under a year later, we’ve found out that the Nav Centre in Cornwall again could play host to as many as 500 asylum seekers.
If they come at all, any asylum seekers who come to Cornwall have already been deemed eligible for refugee status by the Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA). This means that they have been interviewed by the CBSA, that their photos and fingerprints have been taken and that they have had health, security and criminal background checks.
Additionally, not all, or possibly any, of the asylum seekers who might stay in Cornwall would have crossed illegally. So far this year, 21,596 asylum seekers have crossed into Canada according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. Of that total, 56 percent crossed over at a legal port of entry.
If Cornwall hosts asylum seekers again this year, they will have already gone through extensive vetting by the federal government and will face more screening before they are accepted.
Like Gander in 2001, Cornwall’s task is to serve as host and to show the best of our community and our country to these people who are afraid and looking to settle a better life.
On 9/11 a community of 7,000 welcomed another 7,000 into their community, schools, and homes. They gave them food, drink, and a friendly ear to help put them at ease. They held parties at their legion for the so- called “Plane People” and community BBQ’S. Cornwall could do at least that much, and if any of those asylum seekers are welcomed into Canada, maybe we’ll be lucky enough that they call Cornwall their home.
If a community like Gander can handle doubling its population overnight, then Cornwall can surely handle playing host to a mere 500 asylum seekers.