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While We're Shunning Refugees, Canada Is Welcoming Them

In this Dec. 5, 2015 file photo, Yazidi refugee Salma Bakir, 9, from Iraq, waits with her family to be permitted by Macedonian police to board a train heading to the Serbian border, near the southern Macedonian town of Gevgelija. (Muhammed Muheisen/AP)
In this Dec. 5, 2015 file photo, Yazidi refugee Salma Bakir, 9, from Iraq, waits with her family to be permitted by Macedonian police to board a train heading to the Serbian border, near the southern Macedonian town of Gevgelija. (Muhammed Muheisen/AP)

Earlier this fall, President Trump set the U.S. refugee quota at just 18,000, the lowest in the 40-year history of our refugee program. Many thousands of refugees who have already been approved, according to strict U.S. security protocols, and had tickets in hand, have now been denied entry and are stranded.

In a triumph for human decency and an example of how Canada has replaced America’s moral leadership, our neighbor continues not only to welcome refugees, but to treat them with dignity and offer them a role in Canada’s future.

When Trump’s Muslim ban slammed America’s door shut, the life of a 12-year-old Somali girl hung in the balance. Officers from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had approved her for resettlement to the U.S., where she could get medical treatment for a severe heart condition. Though she was approved, Trump’s policy kept her out. Last month she traveled to Canada instead.

When ISIS retreated from the city of Mosul in 2017, many children among the Yazidi community, a group ISIS targeted for genocide, escaped imprisonment and began searching for their parents. Canada had already opened its doors by then to 1,200 Yazidis. (By way of comparison, Germany brought in 1,000 and Australia 2,700.) Around the same time, the U.S. allowed exactly three Yazidis to resettle in this country.

As millions of Syrians fled their homes, Justin Trudeau, who recently won a second term as Canada’s prime minister, welcomed 25,000 in 2015. When Trump became president, he immediately shut them out. His rants about the dangers of refugees — a political stunt meant to stoke fear — never bore out in Canada (nor in our country for that matter).

In this Nov. 5, 2019, photo, migrants receive medical care at a sidewalk clinic at refugee camp in Matamoros, Mexico. The doctors and nurses working in the camp are treating people with respiratory problems, skin conditions, diarrhea and other diseases linked to the camp’s unsanitary conditions. (Eric Gay/AP)
In this Nov. 5, 2019, photo, migrants receive medical care at a sidewalk clinic at refugee camp in Matamoros, Mexico. The doctors and nurses working in the camp are treating people with respiratory problems, skin conditions, diarrhea and other diseases linked to the camp’s unsanitary conditions. (Eric Gay/AP)

In fact, when the government of Canada offered its citizens an opportunity to sponsor more refugees by putting up their own personal resources, many across the country offered to help. The success of this private citizen sponsorship model is leading to its expansion in more than a dozen countries through a program known as the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative, a partnership between the government of Canada, the U.N. Refugee Agency and several non-profit entities. GRSI anticipates that over 1,000 refugees will be welcomed by sponsorship groups outside of Canada this year, with Ireland as the latest country to provide its citizens with an opportunity to welcome refugees.

Canada, like the U.S., has the lowest unemployment rate in decades, but Trudeau’s government views refugees as an economic asset. It started a first-of-its-kind economic mobility project that matches refugees overseas with jobs in Canada. The first Syrian computer programmer arrived earlier this year and the model is showing so much promise that Canadian employers are asking for more.

The country also aims to welcome one million immigrants in the next three years to help fill labor shortages. Trudeau intends to ensure that refugees are part of that equation, a smart calculation given that they are arguably among the most untapped resources in the world, in terms of potential and will to innovate, work, contribute and rebuild their lives. A recent non-partisan study shows that refugees are highly valuable employees who contributed $63 billion dollars more to the U.S. economy than they took in services, over a decade.

We need new ideas and partnerships, and most of all, we need moral leadership.

In the U.S., companies are already feeling the loss of refugee workers due to Trump’s historically low resettlement quotas. Manufacturing, meat packing and other industries across the country are looking to hire more refugees. We would clearly benefit from a version of Canada’s labor mobility pilot project.

But there’s also Trudeau’s personal leadership. He visited the company that brought in the first refugee programmer. He handed out blankets to arriving Syrians. He appointed Ahmed Hussen, a Somali-Canadian lawyer and politician, as minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship.

Trump’s leader on immigration policy, meanwhile, is Stephen Miller, who, it turns out, is immersed in virulent racism and disseminates white nationalist and neo-Nazi propaganda. Miller is the architect of policies that have brutally separated parents from their children at the southern border, and inflicted severe pain and harm on many seeking safety and refuge in the U.S.

The forced displacement of peoples is at a high point historically, with more than 70 million people who have fled their homes. Global warming will exacerbate this human crisis. The old ways of helping — giving refugees tents, food and aid and telling them to wait until the conflict ends and then go home — don’t work anymore.

We need new ideas and partnerships, and most of all, we need moral leadership. We need to remember the 12-year-old Somali girl, the Yazidi boy, the Syrian programmer. Displaced people can help enhance our own futures, if we only let them. If we continue to abandon them, it will be to our economic detriment, as well as to our ongoing shame.

Canada is providing the leadership the world needs. Hopefully, the U.S. will follow suit.

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Sasha Chanoff Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Sasha Chanoff is the founder and executive director of RefugePoint, a non-profit organization that provides lasting solutions for the world's most at-risk refugees.

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