Better in Refugees than in Soccer: Canada vs. Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the refugee crisisIn listening to all the furor over the NYE attacks in Cologne, I’ve come to realize that Canada’s cautious approach to taking in refugees is warranted. Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, took the bold step back in 2015 of presenting a carte blanche (read: open door) entry to almost all refugees, in order to try to mitigate some of the  refugee and migrant chaos that Europe was experiencing that summer.

Honestly, I’m not sure how the screening for entry into Germany is happening. I know that refugees entering Europe from any geographic/national point are able to apply for entry into Germany, contrary to the EU regulations that would rather have refugees be accepted in whichever country they first appear. Apart from being rubber stamped at the various fringe countries, I have a feeling very little security checks are actually being held of those wishing to seek asylum in Germany.

By Graeme MacKay, Editorial Cartoonist, The Hamilton Spectator - Wednesday November 25, 2015 10,000 Syrian refugees to be resettled by yearÕs end, 15,000 more by February The Liberal government will not meet its Dec. 31 deadline to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees and now says it aims to complete the program by February. The new target is to bring 10,000 people to Canada by year's end and the remainder in the first two months of 2016. The group will be a mix of government-assisted and privately sponsored refugees, all of whom will be identified by the end of next month. The Canadian government is working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as well as the Turkish government to find suitable candidates. Priority for government refugees will be given to complete families, women at risk, members of sexual minorities and single men only if they are identified as gay, bisexual or transgender or are travelling as part of a family. Private sponsors have no restrictions on whom they can bring over and the majority of refugees expected to arrive by the end of the year will be coming via private groups. All health and security screening will take place overseas and once that's complete, refugees will be flown to Toronto and Montreal, largely on chartered aircraft. From there, they will be spread across 36 different destination cities which already have resettlement programs in place. Temporary accommodation will be provided by the military if required, but the government aims to have lodging in place in the host cities and towns. The federal government cost for the program is an estimated $678 million over the next six years but doesn't include additional funding that could be necessary for provinces and territories. More than 500 officials have been assigned to work on the massive resettlement program, one of the largest of its kind in the world as it relates to the Syrian refugee crisis. (Source: Hamilton Spectator) http://www.thespec.com/news-sIn Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is trying to fulfill a campaign promise to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees (note, only Syrians are included in this number, as opposed to Germany who is accepting refugees from any war-torn country, again, as I understand the situation). The first 10,000, brought in by the 2015 year end, were refugees who had already been sponsored from within Canada by either private citizens or private organizations, such as churches, and whom had already been on the Government of Canada’s radar for the past few years as Citizenship and Immigration Canada conducted its normal security checks.

I’ve had some discussions with individuals who claim that this initial 10,000 shouldn’t count towards Prime Minister Trudeau’s 25,000 count as the 10,000 had already been approved under the auspices of the previous government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. I feel that’s just politicking numbers – at the end of the day, whomever is being admitted into Canada is being admitted by the Government of Canada, regardless of who is Prime Minister or which party is at the helm of the country.

What is important is that the Government of Canada remains committed to conducting thorough security clearance checks on each individual who is applying to become a citizen of Canada. All refugees accepted to Canada have gone through these checks. Some pundits have scoffed at Prime Minister Trudeau’s commitment to 25,000 refugees, which really is a drop in the bucket in comparison to Germany’s acceptance of over 1 million refugees in 2015, but that is a manageable number, especially in light of the Cologne attacks.

I wonder if Cologne would have looked different on New Year’s Eve, if the refugees accepted into Germany, carte blanche, had to submit applications, had actually been screened, and had trickled into Germany, rather than flooding into Germany through Chancellor Merkel’s kindness and courage in throwing the doors of Germany wide open to over a million refugees? I do understand that Canada is in a different place, quite literally, than Germany, as we don’t have a war (or wars) on the doorstep of our continent, so that we can take an arm’s length approach to refugees. However, the clash of cultures that occurred that evening of December 31, 2015, perhaps may have been mitigated through a more conservative approach to the refugees.

One might argue that Europe does not have the luxury of being able to deal with a conservative approach to accepting refugees, as Canada is doing. We selected handpicked refugees, and are handpicking refugees out of the camps in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, rather than having to deal with desperate people who have trekked thousands of kilometers in order to find stability and peace. Certainly, most of the refugees whom Germany will have accepted are also not misogynistic bigots who think it their right to grope and rob women in public (and worse); as Deborah Orr, of the Guardian notes:

…it’s silly to pretend that the word “refugee” is synonymous with the word “saint” anyway.

Only a simpleton – or, more commonly, person driven by instinct and emotion – thinks you can counter the uncompromising prejudice of “all immigrants are bad” with the uncompromising prejudice of “all immigrants are good”.

Point taken. Refugees are a slice of a population, and every slice of a population will have its devils and its saints, and everything in between. And yet, the method encouraging people to go through the proper refugee application process certainly seems to have its merits.

I understand that Chancellor Merkel is doing her best to save German face and to instill tougher rules on criminals who are also refugees, and to instill some bureaucratic brakes on the 2015 ‘open door’ policy, so that the influx of refugees slows down in 2016. However, we can’t lose sight of the fact that we keep being reactionary to incidents with these refugees, whether it is the drowning of a refugee toddler, the Paris attacks, or this latest clash of cultures.

The root(s): the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya; the tensions between Sunnis and Shias as played out through Saudi Arabia and Iran; and of course, the spread of the Islamic State through various regions around the globe. That’s what stable countries like Germany and Canada need to focus on, how to resolve these conflicts in order to mitigate the refugee crisis.

Until these various crises are somewhat ameliorated, we will keep having refugees, and keep reacting to refugee issues: it’s time to stop taking a tactical lens to what is a strategic issue.

Building Walls

BRIDGE OF SPIESI just finished watching Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, a great spy thriller based on the account of James Donovan, a New York lawyer who represented a Soviet spy in court in 1957, and then who subsequently was the main negotiator, five years later, coordinating an exchange of that Soviet spy for an American pilot shot down over the Soviet Union. Amongst many memorable scenes, one stood out for me: Donovan is returning to West Berlin by train from East Berlin, after having spent the night in a Stasi jail cell and, as the train crosses the now-erected and newly infamous Berlin Wall, he watches in horror as several people try to climb over the Wall and are summarily shot and killed.

Hungary, fence, migrants, refugeesI don’t know whether Donovan actually witnessed this incident, but the scene made me immediately think of the wall put up by Hungary to deter the flood of migrants and refugees across the Hungarian border from Serbia. Apparently there are more walls that have been put up already by other countries (see Adam Taylor’s Washington Post article from August on walls). These walls vary in length but the intent is similar: to deal with the influx of migrants and refugees into Europe.

The scene from the movie is poignant, as people are desperate to leave the oppressive German Democratic Republic (East Germany) for the democratic West, and make every attempt to do so, even at risk of their own lives. The Wall only is a physical hindrance, and the intention of the Wall – to keep people in – can only be implemented by the use of force.

The reality of the walls being built in Europe today is the same – they will not act as deterrents unless the countries that erected the walls are willing to use force to implement the intention of the walls: to keep migrants and refugees out. One might argue that the walls are not being built to keep migrants and refugees out, that the walls are being built to better channel the human flood, but if you examine the nature of walls, it is to control the ability of people to enter and/or to leave. How far are European countries willing to go to enforce the walls that they are building?

Particularly in light of yesterday’s attack in Paris, more walls are going to be built throughout Europe: physical walls, mental walls; blockades against migrants and refugees; barriers to multiculturalism; moats to weather a modern siege of Europe. Walls have never really helped to stave off evil and, more often than not, walls become symbols of oppression: the Berlin Wall, the Warsaw Ghetto Wall, the West Bank Barrier.

It is in this moment of desperate times that we have a choice as to whether to keep raising walls, or to raise arms in welcome.

Another Unfortunate Headline (and one of the more potentially racist ones out there)

Europe's refugee crisisI looked down on the BBC app on my phone and this headline loomed out at me:

Clearing the rubbish at migrant camp

I know what they meant – the accompanying picture (not the one displayed here) was worth more the headline words put together – but, lord, this one comes off a rather scandalously at first glance, particularly in light of some of the nationalistic comments that are starting to swirl through Europe.

Just brings the point home that we need to be careful how we phrase things in the public eye.

He should be sleeping, not just looking like it.

image

It’s not just about the photo. It’s about rectifying the horrible crisis in the Middle East that is the root of people like Kurdi dying in an attempt to escape it.  And what about all those who are living half lives as refugees in camps or on some road to nowhere,  as long as it doesn’t lead them back to the hell that is their former home? I don’t have an answer and our leaders need to work on solutions for all those whom Kurdi now represents, who were,  before this photo,  mostly nameless mobs of migrants that people ignored as someone else’s problem.

That little boy is not a piece of human flotsam and we cannot turn our backs on what he now represents. We never should have turned our backs on that situation in the first place. The fault is as much ours in our complacency of absorbing such human tragedies as the norm of our world (“at least it’s not in my back yard so what do I care for a civil war in Syria? “) as it is of the people who meddled in Syrian affairs to the point that ISIS was able to grow into a terror-filled caliphate. What was the lesser of two evils there?

But that question does not bear any impact on Aylan Kurdi,  or his brother,  or his mother,  or the thousands that went to the same fate before Aylan: death by desperation. And that will never stand trial in the Hague.