Refugees welcome

It's a complex issue.

Right from the top, it must be acknowledged that the current hype on the Syrian refugee crisis may very well fade shortly and it doesn't necessarily dig deeply into the many facets to this particular situation which has been developing for years, much less into other areas or peoples who are displaced. For one, African migrants have been perishing in the Mediterranean in growing numbers for years without tugging at our heart strings.

Is it fair to hijack the photo of one family's tragedy to galvanize a response? Perhaps the media's integrity around the photo (which many outlets will say they carefully considered before using) will be tested by the child's aunt in Canada who has reportedly asked, now that the point has been made, that those who wish to show photos of Aylan use one of him happy and alive.

That said, it's good to see the energy the general populace is expending on the Syrian refugee crisis.

Harper points out that something should be done about the situation in Syria that is causing all these displaced people. He's right, especially since many Syrians don't actually want to emigrate elsewhere; they want their country back, stable and productive, not to have to move somewhere else. But to suggest we have to choose between trying to ameliorate the situation and helping those who have been made homeless by it seems ludicrous.

There was a demonstration at City Hall tonight. It was sparsely attended, but there was a decent diversity represented. (I don't know all the Winnipeg political candidates on sight, however I recognized three Liberals and one Green.)

I was impressed that the organizer -- a young professional of Middle Eastern background, judging by facebook -- opened the event with several First Nations speakers. It was quite profound to have First Nations people in Winnipeg speak an unstinting welcome to people in crisis around the world -- despite the fact that First Nations have generally gotten the short stick from newcomers and are a people in crisis themselves.

A number of planned speakers -- who included not only some Middle Eastern refugees (one of whom gave a nice shout out to MCC as the agency that helped to sponsor him) but also some Africans -- the mic was opened to a comment free for all.

The speakers generally did well, even the more spontaneous ones.

One woman rambled a tad but her point was that the ableism she hears from both the government and citizens regarding refugees is distressing. She identified herself as a person with a hidden disability that has prevented her from working -- something that lent weight to her argument that we can value people for more than the employment potential they represent. We should help people because our common humanity demands it of us, not because they can help our economy.

The one person I know personally who spoke was the weakest, though my abhorrence for her presentation may in part be because of the degree I identify with her...except I don't. She started with an awkward, unnecessary and offensive apologetic for her Christian remarks, went off on a bizarre tangent about being proud to be a Mennonite, that Menno Simons was actually Jewish (a. where on earth did she get that information? and b. how is that even the slightest bit relevant?) and then continued in this underlying theme of generational blessing that was a lot more prosperity gospel than Anabaptist. She pleaded for the children ("because they are our future whereas older people are gonna die, let's face it!"). She didn't want for passion though I could have asked for a bit more common sense. She capped it off by asking everyone to join her in singing O Canada, which she proceeded to belt it out like the soloist at a hockey game.

The director of IRCOM underscored the important point that the Somali and Eritrean refugees made by their presence: there are more people around the world languishing in long-term displacement than just Iraqis and Syrians.

I'm proud to be able to say that long before the picture last week and the news from Hungary piqued the world's interest, refugees in general, Syria in particular, have been on my radar. For half a year, I have been part of a group helping a Syrian family acclimatize to Canada and supporting a group that's working to bring a refugee from DR Congo to Winnipeg. For years, I've been receiving communiques from Mennonite Central Committee about the dire situation in Syria. Over the past several months, it was in large part due to my initiative that the publication I work for ran feature articles on sponsoring refugees (one how-to, one story of sponsor experiences), and that my denomination released a push for churches to consider sponsoring refugees.

Let's not be foolishly blind to complexities. But let's not do nothing either.


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