Doing important stuff on our own is often very difficult. But when we start to work together, and stop worrying whether we should be doing something else instead, or worrying about the risks – that is when amazing things become possible.
The crisis in Syria and images of a young boy, drowned on the beach as his family tried desperately to flee what must have been even more desperate circumstances, has awakened a lot of people and communities in Canada. I too want to help Syrian refugees, but in considering what I can do personally, and what my community may be able to do, I recognize that it is not just Syrians that need help.
But we have to start somewhere.
I’ve seen an overwhelming wave of people across BC and Canada wanting to step up and help Syrian refugees. There has also been backlash and resistance – people concerned that our existing safety measures aren’t strong enough to keep potential terrorists out, people that say we should be helping Canadians in need first, and the general – I don’t know, is it racism? Elitism? The whole I-got-here-first-so-bug-off or this-is-mine-and-you-are-not-welcome thing. But I think more and more, the arguments from those who resist are made from an armchair and a keyboard, while those of us who want to do something – well, that is just it. We’re doing something. They are not.
I think the fears of terrorists coming are unfounded – we have processes already in place to protect us, but we can’t be protected from everything. We have to live, and guiding our actions solely by some potential unseen threat is either cowardice or just plain sad.
Helping Canadians first – I love that idea. Except we’ve been doing that. We have social systems, volunteer organizations, people that help their neighbours, their community members, people that wrap blankets and extra winter jackets around trees in parks for people who might need them. Some of our social systems are broken, but there are many people trying to fix them, trying to do better, trying to get more support for people in often very complex situations. The ones who sit back and say we should help Canadians first are the ones who should get off their couch and help Canadians, and then they will realize that we have to help everyone.
Leading up to American Thanksgiving last week, American TV’s John Oliver said “Let’s be honest here. Every generation has had its own ugly reaction to refugees, whether they are the Irish, the Vietnamese, the Cubans or the Haitians, and those fears have been broadly unfounded. In fact there was only one time in American history when the fear of refugees wiping everyone out did actually come true and we’ll all be sitting around a table celebrating it on Thursday.”
Many of my ancestors were chased from their home countries, either by politics, war, plague or poverty. They too risked everything getting on boats for months at sea, and many of those immigrants lost remaining family members, either at sea or those left back home.
Welcoming refugees has a huge potential to help us too. These are good people, just like us, except they were unlucky enough to be caught in situations they could not control. They might be doctors, or business people, or work in skilled trades, or have children that can help fill our schools. It may be more difficult for small communities like ours to provide the services refugees may need, but it is also a way to build our community, to recognize and grow our own potential, to help existing and new community members thrive.
And it is the right thing to do.