From the moment I walked into Zaatari refugee camp in the summer of 2014, I immediately felt like it was a scene straight out of a movie. It was surreal to realize that an entire town had been built in the middle of the desert filled mostly with women and children, trying to carry out some degree of a normal life.
This scene is not isolated to Jordan, but is also played out in Turkey and Lebanon. Meanwhile, there are additionally hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees that have found refuge in Iraq and Egypt. These five countries host 95% of the total Syrian refugees, despite facing a whole host of economic challenges and underfunded refugees programs.
It is ironic that these nations are labeled at times according to some western standards as being barbaric and uncivil. But these so-called barbaric and uncivil countries are the ones that have responded most willingly and most significantly to the plight of the Syrian people – clearly defusing the narrative that Muslim/Arab countries are not accepting refugees.
One might believe that the response of Canadians’ would be similar, wanting to welcome Syrian refugees into the country. But expectation does not always translate into reality, and in this case it appears that the opposite is true. Over the past week, Canadians have been voicing their opinions over social media, expressing strong language and repugnant commentary about Syrian refugees and how they should not be welcomed into Canada.
While someone may say that this type of discourse surely does not reflect the opinion of the majority of Canadians, the polls confirm otherwise. According to Global News, 60% of Canadians oppose the idea of receiving Syrian refugees. As Canada represents a model of human rights for the world, this response is more than disappointing, and rather shocking.
Through history Canada has stood up for the most vulnerable and displaced populations around the world. Why don’t Canadians want to do the same for Syrian refugees especially given the fact that 76.6% of refugees are women and children?
Decisions by citizens are being based on fear with diminished regard to the substantial issue of acting to help displaced and vulnerable people. Quite illustrative are the hate crimes that have been directed against Muslims across Canada since the aftermath of the Paris attacks. It appears that hate and extremism are being fought with racist violence.
Trudeau’s stance is refreshing and absolutely necessary for Canada to keep its image as being a compassionate nation. The Middle Eastern countries have responded and taken in millions of refugees, and as a result they are at capacity. It is time for the West, and in particular North America, to respond in a similar way.
Sohaib Gabsis is an M.A. candidate at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs and currently sits on the G78 Board of Directors. He holds a B.A. in Human Right and a B.A. Honours in French and English literature. Previously, Sohaib worked with the UN – International Labour Organization on the Syrian refugees crisis in Amman, and later worked on the ILO-IPEC programme.
Featured Photo by Sohaib Gabsis