National Column: There is no refugee ‘crisis’ in Canada

by Rosie DiManno

The sea takes asylum seekers.

We remember one of them. The Boy on the Beach: 3-year-old Alan Kurdi, who drowned in the Mediterranean on Sept. 2, 2015.

Because that Syrian child had a name. Because there was a heart-wrenching photo of a Turkish paramilitary officer carrying the toddler’s body, an image burned into the worldís conscience.

Scarce attention has been paid to all the other Kurdis and their families who’ve perished in desperate flight attempts across the Mediterranean.

2014: 3,283

2015: 3,783

2016: 5,143

2017: 3,130

2018 (as of Aug. 18): 1,527

Yes, it’s happening far away from us, the bountiful nation that is Canada. But the currents of despair and displacement are lapping at our shores, and at our land border with America. They arrive not on rafts and unseaworthy boats but lugging suitcases, babes in arms, at border crossings official or otherwise, some 31,000 refugee claimants from the U.S. since January 2017.

A “crisis” seemingly mismanaged by the Liberal government. A “crisis” manipulated by the Conservative Party as an effective wedge issue that will doubtless impact the next national election. A “crisis” that has been kneaded into the xenophobic dough of anti-multiculturalism, a yeasty ingredient of a new schism party as envisioned by Maxime Bernier, who Thursday announced his abandonment of the federal Tories on the heels of a tweet barrage fomenting anger against immigrants and The Other.

“Do we want to emphasize our ethnic and religious differences and exploit them to buy votes as the Liberals are doing?” the failed Tory leadership candidate asked Thursday. “Or emphasize what unites us and the values that can guarantee social cohesion?

“Just like in other Western societies grappling with this issue, a large number of Canadians and certainly a vast majority of Conservatives are worried that we are heading in the wrong direction. But it is not politically correct to raise such a question. Instead of leading the debate and pushing back against all the unfair accusations, Andrew Scheer chose to avoid the controversy. He and several of my colleagues disavowed me. They are so afraid of criticism by the left and, yes, by the media, that they prefer to let down millions of supporters across the country who would like us to talk about this issue.”

Bernier was asked by a reporter, bluntly, are you anti-immigrant?

“That’s not the case. And I will fight people who bring fake news.”

But the irregular refugee “crisis” is fake news, or at least alt-news, or hysteria-goading news. Bernier is clearly tapping into that toxic bloodstream.

Never before in the history of the planet has humanity been so much on the move – 68.6 million forcibly displaced, as per most recent statistics from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Some 25.5 million are refugees by designation, 3.1 million are asylum-seekers, more than half of them originate from three countries – South Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria.

Forty-four-thousand forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution daily.

The vast majority of those seeking shelter and sanctuary have landed in Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon.

But the trekkers – the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, as beckoned by what was once a beacon of welcome, the Statue of Liberty – have thrown Europe into existential havoc, although only Germany is to be found on the Top-10 list of refugee-hosting countries.

The “crisis” in Canada? Last year this country received less than 0.2 per cent of the overall global refugee population, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

A majority of those refugee claimants who stepped foot into Canada this year and last did so through regular entry points, such as an airport, not via the Overground Railroad of unofficial entry points between the U.S. and Quebec, most of whom headed directly for Montreal and Toronto, admittedly swamping housing and social service resources. Last year, it was mostly Haitians, worried about the Donald Trump administration’s deportation threats and manoeuvres, jumping on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada” tweet in January, 2017, in response to Trump’s travel ban aimed squarely at Muslim-majority countries. This year, the majority of irregular migrants arriving are Nigerians recently issued with U.S. travel visas. Nigerians fleeing the violence of Boko Haram and other systemic persecutions find it slightly easier to obtain travel visas from the United States, compared to Canada, and look upon the U.S. as merely a transit point en route.

The swamping, however, is rhetoric which has blown out of all proportion the economic and social duress Canada is suffering because of these irregular/illegal arrivals who, by virtue of Canada as a signatory to international refugee laws, have the right to make refugee claims in whatever country they seek protection. Just over 50,000 filed such claims filed last year, less than half of asylum seekers crossing at unofficial border points.

This is not a crisis. Yet, in an Angus Reid Institute survey – as cited this week in a Maclean’s cover story – two-thirds of Canadians believe it is indeed just that. We don’t like “queue jumpers.” And immigrants who came here the plodding way, through official channels, are, anecdotally, among those most incensed.

Fear of being overwhelmed by those who look different, worship different, often ascribe to alien ideas of gender inequality and clan dynamics, have propelled hard-right parties to power or muscularity in Europe and mutilated the essence of Republicanism in the U.S.

Italy, in March, elected a brashly populist, unapologetically anti-establishment, viciously anti-immigration coalition government, led by the Five-Star Movement, in league with the frankly racist Lega.
The coalition has been dominated by Matteo Salvini, deputy prime minister and interior minister, who cited Mussolini – “more enemies, more honour” – on the dictatorís April birthday.

Italy refuses to let 177 rescued migrants disembark from a Coast Guard ship stuck in the Catania harbour unless other EU countries promise to take them in, engaged in what is basically a standoff between Rome and Malta, each holding the other responsible for those miserable souls.

Just like the St. Louis transatlantic liner, crammed full of Jewish refugees, that Canada and the U.S. sent back to Europe in 1939.

“Get ready to pack your bags,” Salvini warned illegal migrants at a June rally, repeating not only a campaign promise to drastically reduce the numbers arriving, come hell or high water, but also vowing to deport hundreds of thousands already in the country.

That is the language of ethnocentrism and loathing, not even bothering with dog-whistling anymore. That is the dialectic and the semantics – the shared lexicon – of bigotry which not-so-subtly infused Bernier’s six-part Twitter rant last week:

“Why should we promote ever-more diversity? If anything and everything is Canadian, does being Canadian mean something?

“Shouldn’t we emphasize cultural traditions, what we have built and have in common, what makes us different from other cultures and societies?

“Having people live among us who reject basic Western values such as freedom, equality, tolerance and openness doesn’t make us strong.

“People who refuse to integrate into our society and want to live apart in their ghetto donít make our society strong.”

Newcomers, especially those who arrive in floods, have always lived apart. They seek familiarity and support in their own kind. They integrate when they’re ready because everybody aspires to upward mobility.

I don’t know what Maxime Bernier’s party will look like. I do know what it already sounds like. I am first-generation Canadian and hell-no that is not me.

Twitter: @rdimanno
Copyright 2018-Torstar Syndication Services

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