He looks like he’s sleeping, his little round head resting on the pillow of sand.
He looks like my son who once fell asleep on the living room floor in the middle of a game.
But his little pudgy baby cheeks won’t fade as he grows into a teenager.
His impish smile, baby teeth framed by a huge grin, topped by twinkling eyes, won’t charm his audience anymore.
He wasn’t born here, like my son. But his parents loved him as much as I love mine.
Seeing him there rips my heart out.
Where has my country gone?
THE SYRIAN REFUGEE TRAGEDY CONTINUES
An image of a drowned toddler washed up on the beach in one of Turkey’s prime tourist resorts swept across social media on Wednesday after at least 12 presumed Syrian refugees died trying to reach the Greek island of Kos.
The picture showed a little boy wearing a bright red t-shirt and shorts lying face-down in the surf on a beach near the resort town of Bodrum. In a second image, a grim-faced policeman carries the body away.
Turkish media identified the boy as 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, whose 5-year-old brother died on the same boat. Media reports said he was from the north Syrian town of Kobani near the Turkish border, scene of heavy fighting between Islamic State insurgents and Kurdish regional forces a few months ago.
The hashtag “KiyiyaVuranInsanlik” – “humanity washed ashore” – became the top trending topic on Twitter. In the first few hours after the accident, the image had been retweeted thousands of times.
THE HARPER GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE
This January, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said Canada will resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2017. It’s been six months. How’s Canada doing?
The short answer is: Don’t bother asking. But first, some background.
In July 2013, then-immigration minister Jason Kenney promised Canada would welcome 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of 2014. Canada missed the deadline, and the Conservative government absorbed quite a bit of public criticism as a result.
In a pleading letter obtained by the Star dated March 17, Kurdi begged Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander to allow them (and not her other brother Abdullah, the father of the two drowned Syrian boys) to come to Canada as refugees.
The letter was delivered by NDP MP Fin Donnelly.
While the brother is not named in the letter, an official in Donnelly’s office confirmed that Kurdi specified in an attachment to the letter that she and her family were sponsoring Mohammed and his family, but that the attachment does go over the family histories of both Mohammed and Abdullah.
The attachment tells of the family’s journey from Damascus to Istanbul, including an encounter with Syrian rebels.
The official said Donnelly also followed up with Alexander in April, “seeking any opportunity” to bring the brothers and their families to Canada.
Alexander, who has served as immigration minister since July 2013 and is running for re-election in Ontario, accused CBC News of ignoring the Syrian refugee crisis.
“I’m actually interested in why this is the first Power & Politics panel we’ve had on this,” he said.
Alexander went on to say that “the biggest conflict and humanitarian crisis of our time has been there for two years, and you and others have not put it in the headlines where it deserves to be.”
Barton noted later the subject had been discussed at least 32 times on Power & Politics, including in interviews with Alexander. As a minister, Alexander was not allowed to appear on panels.
Trudeau, however, said the government has repeatedly ignored calls from opposition parties and international groups to accept more refugees from Syria and other nations ravaged by war and internal strife.
“You don’t get to suddenly discover compassion in the middle of an election campaign. You either have it or you don’t. This government has ignored the pleas of Canadian NGOs [non-governmental organizations], opposition parties and the international community that all believe Canada could be doing more, should have been doing more,” he said.
Toronto Star – Canada’s embarrassing indifference to the plight of refugeesI speak with a lot of refugees. These days most are from Syria. I’ve learned to expect one question: how can I get to Canada? My answer is embarrassing: it’s basically impossible. Geography and arrangements with other countries mean it’s hard to claim asylum, resettlement takes years, and things are getting worse. Why? We keep electing a government that doesn’t want refugees.
Alexander may have suspended his campaign to address the issue, but the Conservatives have spent a decade tightening Canada’s asylum system and ignoring appeals from organizations tasked with helping refugees. It is a fact that restrictive asylum policies fuel irregular migration. Addressing this crisis requires radical and swift changes to the way Canada engages the world.
The Conservative government imposed a new rule for potential refugees in 2012 — a change refugee groups say is squarely to blame for why so few Syrians have made it to Canadian soil.
The rule also appears to have played a key role in the government’s refusal to let a B.C. woman, Tima Kurdi, privately sponsor her brother Mohammed Kurdi and his family to come to Canada.
The refugee groups say they have repeatedly called on Immigration Minister Chris Alexander and the government to exempt Syrians from the rule — which says the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) or another country must first designate a person as a refugee before immigration officials will consider letting them be privately sponsored to come to Canada.
But they say their requests have been ignored.
The Syrian refugee crisis has exposed a wall of bureaucratic hurdles in Canada’s renowned refugee-sponsorship system that did not exist during previous crises, when the country brought in huge airlifts of desperate people.
Migrants wanting to come to Canada as refugees now face long waits at visa offices abroad and for applications to be processed here. Refugee certification from another country or a United Nations agency is required before some kinds of applications can be reviewed.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) supplies the names of pre-cleared refugees to Canadian visa offices. The list, which currently contains about 400 names, is circulated weekly to more than 90 organizations in Canada — including the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa — that have signed sponsorship agreements with the government. The groups can then select names from the list of those they want to sponsor to Canada.
Those chosen typically arrive here within about two months, compared to up to two years for other private sponsorships, said Don Smith, the chair of the diocese’s refugee working group.
The government has given priority status to refugees from Syria and Iraq, which in theory should speed up the processing of their claims, Smith said in an interview Thursday.
“The problem is, in the last two years when we’ve been talking about the Syrians, it’s only last week that Syrians started showing up on a visa office-referred database,” Smith said.
Thursday was not a good day for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.
It started with news that Canada had rejected a refugee application from the family of Alan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian who was discovered washed ashore on a Turkish beach. Photographs of Kurdi’s body have gone viral and ignited a global outcry about the Syrian refugee crisis.
And it didn’t help that the night before, Alexander was widely criticized for making factually incorrect statements about the refugee crisis in an interview with the CBC.
Alexander temporarily suspended his campaign Thursday.
Was it all just a bad day for Alexander or something that’s recurring?
Undeserving people exploiting the generosity of a benevolent government. Cheating an application process. Taking advantage of welfare. Stealing our jobs. That is the image of “bogus refugees” that Canada’s Conservative government has spent years carefully cultivating. But a single photo of a drowned child has shattered all the stories meant to harden Canadians. 3-year old Alan Kurdi’s fate off Turkey’s shore has seared the reality of the refugee crisis into our consciousness and left Canadians stunned about our government’s complicity in the death of a child.
Canada can and should be doing more to bring in a larger number of Syrian refugees than the government’s current target, says former Supreme Court justice and United Nations high commissioner on human rights Louise Arbour.
“I think these numbers, frankly — 10,000 over the next four years — are so out of proportion of what Canada should be doing,” she said in an interview on CBC Radio’s The House.
Canada’s policies toward people fleeing persecution and conflict worsened significantly with the election of Harper. The Conservative government has only offered federal assistance to 457 Syrian refugees – out of a promised 10,000 – according to New Democratic Party foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar. According to the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, new laws introduced in 2012 cut off healthcare for asylum seekers, criminalized them and imposed “unrealistic time limits for refugee claimants to prove their claims” that “result in grave injustices” and undermine Canada’s human rights record.
Children are washing up lifeless on beaches and Canada has turned its back. This Syrian refugee crisis is one of the worst humanitarian tragedies in recent memory and our government has utterly failed to respond in any meaningful way. While other countries have stepped up to resettle Syrian refugees caught in a war zone and humanitarian crisis, the Conservative government has taken little action.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi didn’t pull any punches when asked about the Syrian refugee crisis and the Canadian government’s response.
- Syrian refugee crisis ‘a disgrace,’ says Nenshi as Albertans try to help
- John Tory organizing mayoral push to help Syrian refugees
- Speed up refugee resettlement, Ontario cabinet minister tells Ottawa
He slammed the “talking points” about attacking ISIS as a solution to the crisis and said Canadians are asking whether the airstrikes are working.
“No one is saying you bring in the refugees and that solves the whole problem,” he said.
“But regardless of all the rest of it, we have tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of desperate people, and we have a country that’s known as being a safe haven and we have to be able to do that.”
Susan on the Soapbox – A Poll Assesses Harper’s Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis
Nelilfu Demir’s photograph of the body of three year old Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach has taken its place among other iconic photographs that, in the words of Ryerson prof Paul Roth, have the power to concentrate the mind.
Canadians are concentrating their minds on one question: is Harper’s government doing enough for Syrian refugees?
We’re half way through the federal election campaign. This is not the question Harper wants us to focus on, so it’s not surprising that two days after Alan Kurdi was buried I received a robo-call poll on the Syrian refugee crisis.
The questions were illuminating.
WHAT’S HAPPENING TO CANADA?
When I was three, the same age as Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy who washed up on a Turkish beach this week, I became a refugee.
But my family did not face the choices his family faced. My story had a different ending, a happy ending. It did because the government of Canada responded to a humanitarian crisis by putting human beings — and their need for shelter and safety and comfort — above everything else.
My story had a happy ending because Canada chose to treat desperate people in desperate need with honour, with a conviction that these people could and would benefit Canada.
Today, as I watch and read about Alan Kurdi’s story (and can barely contain my emotions) and learn that millions of Syrians, subjected to the fear, panic, trauma and total helplessness, far worse than Ugandan Asians were ever exposed to, can only be processed to come to Canada at the rate of some 2,000 in five years, I wonder what happened to the Canada that brought me and some 6,000 out of the clutches of a brutal dictator within a matter of days, without subjecting them to a bureaucratic nightmare and years of waiting: WHERE is the Canada that processed and brought in some 60,000 boat people in less than 18 months: WHERE is the compassion and desire to make things happen expeditiously exhibited during the migrations of large numbers of refugees from Hungary and Kosovo…..????
HOW IT SHOULD BE DONE
This week, more than 7,000 refugees — mainly from war-torn areas in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — were welcomed into Germany as the Hungarian government ejected them from Hungary.
Hungary’s far-right government, which has taken harsh stances towards what it sees as an unwanted mob, took the migrants by bus to Austria, after which the German and Austrian governments received them. Once they had crossed the border into Germany, the Associated Press reports they were greeted with “wholly unexpected hospitality featuring free high-speed trains, seemingly bottomless boxes of supplies, and gauntlets of well-wishers offering trays of candy for everyone and cuddly toys for the tots in mothers’ arms.”