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Which refugees are better than others?

Why the Conservative government’s policy on whom it would prefer to admit as a refugee is so problematic


 
ALEPPO, SYRIA - SEPTEMBER 20 :  Syrian people carry wounded ones to hospital after Assad Regime Forces stage an airstrike to opposition controlled Muvasalat district of Aleppo, Syria on September 20, 2015. (Mamun Ebu Omer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Syrians carry the wounded to hospital after Assad regime forces staged an air strike on the opposition-controlled Muvasalat district of Aleppo, Syria, on Sept. 20, 2015 (Mamun Ebu Omer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

In the charnel house that is Syria, it can seem churlish to weigh the suffering of one group against another. What is worse, to die thrown from a building because you are gay, or to be shot dead fleeing your home because you are Christian? Sexual slavery or starvation? Ethnic cleansing or barrel bombs? The country is devouring all its children in almost equal measure.

That includes Syria’s confessional majority: Sunni Muslims. If the wrath of the so-called Islamic State has come down disproportionately on non-Sunni Muslims—Yazidis, Shias, Alawites and Christians—then that of dictator Bashar al-Assad’s mostly Alawite regime has focused on the Sunni Muslim majority.

This is what makes Canada’s policy on whom it would prefer to admit as a refugee problematic. “We will prioritize persecuted ethnic and religious minorities, those at demonstrated risk, and we make no apologies for that,” Costas Menegakis, parliamentary secretary to Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, said in December.

A policy that favours religious minorities in Syria would, by definition, discriminate against Sunni Muslims, because of their majority status in the country.

Globe and Mail story today seems to confirm that the government has acted on its long-stated policy. The newspaper reports that “areas of focus” have been made part of a refugee triage system that favours some United Nations-referred refugees over others. The criteria, the Globe reports, include specific groups, such as “religious minorities, and people such as gays and lesbians who face discrimination because of their sexuality.”

The criteria also reportedly favour those the government believes are more likely to successfully integrate in Canada, such as people who speak French or English, have run a business or have family in Canada.

If these areas of focus do exist, they don’t appear to have had much of an impact on the sectarian makeup of refugees admitted so far. An Ottawa Citizen story last month reported that only about five per cent of Syrian refugees Canada took in this year as part of its government-assisted program were vulnerable ethnic or religious minorities. Some 90 per cent of privately sponsored refugees, by contrast, were so defined.

It’s possible the government wants to shift these percentages in future to bring in more religious minorities through its government-assisted refugee program. Some have accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of an anti-Muslim bias toward refugees. And it is difficult to justify a policy that favours religious minorities from a country in which the suffering of the Sunni Muslim majority equals or surpasses that of other groups.

The alleged bias toward businesspeople, the young and those with language skills raises further questions about the larger goal of Canada’s refugee policy. Is it to provide refuge to those most in need? In other words, should Canada’s approach to refugees be guided solely by humanitarian motives? Or should it incorporate elements of our approach to immigration, and try to select people who are more likely to be a benefit to Canada over the long run?

One answer does not necessarily preclude the other. Who today wishes Canada had fewer Vietnamese, Hungarians, Jews or Ismaili Muslims? All came in large waves to escape persecution at a time when Canada’s refugee admission process was less cumbersome than it is now, and all, by and large, have done well.

There is little reason to believe that Sunni Muslim Syrians who make it through Canada’s security screening process, as all refugees must, would not similarly thrive. And if our goal is to offer sanctuary to the most vulnerable, they should also be admitted on equal footing as their Christian countrymen. Syria’s inferno hasn’t spared them, either.

 


 

Which refugees are better than others?

  1. They are people in need. Let ’em in.

    • Oh and this question should never have to be asked , but it is and there is a reason. After all we never had to question our safety and culture with other refugees .

      • We don’t have to this time either.

  2. Oh sure, let ’em all in! A massive influx of desperate people can only be good, eh? It will cause enormous disruptions across a wide swath of our population already struggling with poor part time jobs, a shortage of affordable housing, and community resources.

    Yeah, I know, Germany has thrown the doors open wide, already there is grumbling and it’s only going to get louder as they struggle to deal with the influx of Syrians, Afghans, Pakistanis and others heading to the promise land. Enormous disruptions will occur, immigrants already there will not be impressed, large numbers of disenfranchised Germans are annoyed, there will be violence. Angela Merkle is toast.

    Nope, the best course is to fund refugee camps in Turkey and other nearby places and talk to ALL the parties involved about how to stop it so that the people can go home. Yep, I know we’re going to have to deal with people we don’t like, but Syria was an artificial construct created by western powers in the first place, bust it up and let the borders be redrawn. There is no other sensible solution. I don’t like Harper much but he’s right on this one.

    • And what country did your family come from?

  3. Yes, Assad has come down hard on Sunnis but mostly on those that oppose him. The Sunni Kurds have been left unscathed from Assad.

    However, its absolutely ridiculous to suggest that Yazidis have suffered equal or even less than the Sunnis. Yazidis were chased out of their homes into the mountains, men slaughtered, women and girls taken into sexual slavery. It doesn’t even come close to what the Sunnis have faced. I disagree with just about everything else Harper has done but one thing I agree with is giving the most persecuted priority over the others.

    At least the Sunnis will have a home to return to whenever this is all over. There is no place left for the Yazidis in the Middle East. The Yazidi culture is facing extinction. I can’t say the same about Sunni Arabs.

  4. I agree. Send aid over . Do not forget these are the same people who want the Jews eliminated. There is more , much much more , to the issue than just bring them here. They are killing each other . From the highest to the lowest, all they think of is surviving so they can kill again. I know you all think differently but considering all that is going on in Canada right now, it puts Canadians at risk, financially , physically, socially, mentally and emotionally , that is too much for the tax payers to handle anymore.

    • You can’t send aid to a war zone

      Syrians btw are all religions….and no we are not ar risk

      You in the cupboard with Harper?

  5. “The criteria also reportedly favour those the government believes are more likely to successfully integrate in Canada, such as people who speak French or English, have run a business or have family in Canada.”

    Based on need first, since this appears to be an emergency situation. As for the other three criteria, I believe these need to be thought through first. 1. People who speak French or English? Or German, or Russian, or Urdu or Arabic would be sufficient, as long as they are amongst the most needy. 2. People who have run a business? Really? What is the reasoning behind that? Who will lend them the money to start a business here? Why not have people come who have not worked, but were high school grads. Send them to university. 3. Have family in Canada? Not sponsors, family. That sounds like a situation for the Human Rights Tribunal – discrimination on the basis of family status.

  6. Here’s why Harper’s policy is right: The UK, France, and several other EU countries have found over the years that conservative Muslims form enclaves, favour imposition of Sharia law and do not accept the liberal policies of Western nations toward women, gays, and non-Muslims. This is a fact, and in fact the problem is a major headache for those governments.

    In other words, if we have a choice between strict Muslims and other persecuted minorities, there is a far better chance that those other minority groups will fit in with and embrace Canadian values of tolerance and cherishing of human rights than strict Muslims. This is not racial discrimination, folks – it’s reality. In most Muslim countries, one is not even allowed to practise a non Muslim faith. I am sorry, but I will not embrace anyone who believes in taking away my human rights, tying mosque and state together, and imposing Sharia law. My ancestors fought too hard for the development and preservation of those liberal rights….

    • Oh do stop talking rubbish…..none of that is true.

  7. Sometimes the mainstream media can be really dense! Here’s someone from, presumably, Citizen and Immigration Canada who risks their job to leak a story, and the media is too dumb to figure out what it really means.

    The Globe and Mail report was that the government put a halt to refugee claims in June of this year. June of this year. Well, by a strange coincidence, June of this year also “happens” to be the month when little Alan Kurdi’s uncle’s application (sponsored by his sister, Teema) was rejected by the government.

    You know? Sometimes one and one really does equal two!

  8. While it would be preferable we obviously cannot bring all refugees to Canada. There are going to be a considerable amount that have to be left behind. With that in mind is it not prudent to select, from the most vulnerable, those that would assimilate the easiest. I quite often wonder about the people who favour bringing in multiple thousands, regardless of the consequences . What would their reaction be if current social services were reduced or taxes increased to facilitate these thousands.

    • We should be taking in a million a year. Canada would boom.

        • I pay a ton of taxes.

          So do immigrants

          In fact,they’ll pay your pension

    • those who would assimilate the best are the children, because they are still capable of learning, and then, of course we would have to bring thir parents. who really assimilates the best? those who are welcomed and befriended, not feared and bullied

  9. Harper is not my hero —
    However, in this case the Liberals are going overboard. Slow and steady wins the race. I realize that the migrants are in a desperate situation. But getting people here who have been fighting battles based essentially on relgion is only going to ask for trouble. Yes, my family also immigrated here, but at the time the Canadian gov`t was looking for people who could fit in, whose religion would fit in (Christian), who had a work ethic background (farming), who would make good citizens, who had sponsership (preferably). My parents also escaped a hostile gov`t, as those they left behind found out to their detriment. We did not try to prostelize people of different religions, or hold whatever relgions they had against them. We and others like us obeyed the letter of the law, attended schools (all my siblings and I knew no English before entering school and taught our parents English ), and continually worked hard to better ourselves. They never accepted gov`t aid of any kind, although my parents came here without any money and just the clothes on their backs.
    I don`t think we should accept any less from the so-called Syrian refugees.

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