Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Refugees - Past, Present, and Future

I debated with myself about writing this post. I normally stick to technology, literature, and various constructive activities on my blog, and I avoid commenting on current affairs or political situations. I avoided the Canadian federal election, talking about who I supported and why, among various other noteworthy events.

This post is different. If you want to avoid my thoughts on refugees and their place in Canadian history, then go ahead and stop reading now.

This is from a post that I wrote and shared on Facebook.

Did you know: 21,000 Mennonites came to Canada as refugees between 1923 and 1930. These were German-speaking people from Russia. This was shortly after the Russian revolution deposed and assassinated most of their royal family who were close allies of the west. This was shortly after the most violent and bloody war the world had ever known, where Germans were the enemy. This was a time when Canada only had 10 million people and 21,000 refugees was a much bigger number for the population to support.
Mennonites said they were a religion of peace, they were pacifists, but to many Canadians they were the enemy. Sure some Mennonites already lived here, but those Mennonite had been living here for two generations and more than fifty years already.
But Canada welcomed them anyway, because that is what we do. Canada welcomed my great-grandparents to this country. My family were refugees fleeing war, fleeing persecution, fleeing the Soviet Gulag. They were the enemy in the eyes of many, but they were welcomed anyway.
Many people are questioning the wisdom of allowing 25,000 refugees into our country who come from circumstances my family knows all too well, as do many families in our nation. I ask you, when has welcoming refugees EVER been bad for this country? When have we ever welcomed in the desperate and persecuted and not been made better for it?
I would gladly open my arms to Syrian refugees and tell each and every one of them only one thing. "Welcome home."
In light of the attack on Paris, many people are questioning the wisdom of allowing Syrian refugees into their country, about the possibility of enemies sneaking into the country among them. An observation was also made in response to my post about having never heard of a Mennonite strapping on a suicide vest.

This is how I answer.

I am not calling for scrapping the vetting and selection process that normally takes place for refugees resettling in Canada. I'm not rejecting this: CBC - Syrian Refugee Screening
I am rejecting this: CNN - Syrian Refugee BacklashThe refusal to aid in a humanitarian crisis because of fear of a few. What is known of the attackers in Paris is that it was masterminded by a Belgian with a history of violence, and conducted by two Belgians, three Frenchmen, and one Syrian who registered as having crossed over in Greece, along with other unknowns.
Registered - as in unlikely to have gone through a checkpoint clutching an AK-47 and a suicide vest. The attack in Paris would have happened with or without this one person's participation - and it sounds to me like the French have more to fear from its own natural-born citizens.
You say you have never heard of a Mennonite with a suicide vest, and I agree with you there. But I would counter that I have heard of Mennonites who joined the SS, and entered the gates of the Stutthof concentration camp as guards. The Mennonite - Mennonites and the Holocaust
ISIS may be trying, but they do not yet hold a candle to the mid-century meat grinders that were Germany and Russia.
What is one or two extremists without resources or equipment in the grand scheme of things? We have exported far more Canadian extremists to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria over the past fifteen years. I would suggest perhaps that we might concern ourselves more with actions that we ourselves take that create homegrown extremists, people who feel they are desperate, disenfranchised, and have nothing to lose right here.
CBC - Mosque Arson is a Hate CrimeCTV - Ontario Youth UnemploymentCBC - Poverty In Canada
I am the product of refugees being welcomed into Canada. Refugees who were hated, and feared, and demonized for where they were from, for the language they spoke, and for the beliefs that they held. I understand there is fear here, and that to some people it is a very real fear.

Imagine being one of those refugees. Living in a country halfway around the world, a country where you do not speak the language, where you do not share their culture, or the religion of most. A place where people fear and distrust you because they associate you with an enemy. An enemy that kills unexpectedly, attacking with surprise, an enemy that wants to start a war.

Imagine a new war starting, worse than the last one, started by the same people that your new neighbours see you as being part of. A worse war, one more horrible than anyone could imagine, one where atrocities were committed that saw millions of innocent civilians murdered. And you, living in your new home country, refuse to fight.

In World War 2 military casualties on the Eastern Front exceeded 15 million soldiers with another 14 to 17 million civilians killed in a war between my family's ancestral homeland (Germany) and its former adopted homeland (Russia). The fall of one as an enemy of the west led directly into the rise of the other as an enemy of the west.

And all along, my family lived, grew, and prospered in their new land. They made friends, lived in peace, and grew to be an intrinsic part of their new home. Today there are nearly 200,000 of us in this country, and once again a new wave of refugees are fleeing terror, war, and persecution.

We have made the right choice in the past. We must have the courage and the fortitude to make the right choice again. It is frightening, risk, uncertainty, the unknown are frightening things. But it is the right thing to do. It is what we do.

Because this is what Canada is.