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Canada's Refugee Problem: Are We Being Too Selfish?

09/12/2013 05:09 EDT | Updated 11/12/2013 05:12 EST

The first Syrian refugees will arrive soon.

We can certainly be proud.

No we can't.

Why not?

Because 1,300 is an extremely low number during a crisis that has generated over 2 million registered refugees. Remember when Canadians rallied to resettle over 60,000 Southeast Asians after the Vietnam War?

That was exceptional.

You mean politically? Or the public support?

Well both are important, don't be naive. And 1,300 is better than none.

By that logic you would be satisfied with 1 Syrian refugee and I can't take you seriously.

Now who's not being serious? There's quite a difference.

My point is there's been no public discussion linking needs to numbers. We don't know what a reasonable number is. Canadians were once able to sponsor refugees almost without limit under the Private Sponsorship program if they could commit to certain responsibilities. But the Government capped private sponsorship of Syrians at 1,100 and itself is only taking on 200.

Syria is different. There are legitimate concerns, like who is actually being accepted? Some refugees are also militants.

The country has waged civil war for over two years. You and I would be militants there. You may as well have barred Holocaust survivors who fought with the partisans, or Rohingyas who rebelled against the Burmese junta. One person's freedom fighters ...

And by that logic, why don't we invite in al-Shabaab? Al Qaeda, too?

Now you're invoking the 'floodgates' but we have processes to decide who qualifies for Canada's protection. We'll accept some, not accept others. It doesn't have to be all or none.

I thought that was my position.

Your position is satisfaction with an arbitrary number, stripped from any context or discussion. Apathy.

It's unsettling that you accuse someone who disagrees with you of indifference. I do care about refugees; my position is that Syria is just one crisis. I may as well ask where is your passion for every other persecuted group on Earth? Since 2003, there have been over 2 million Iraqi refugees fleeing the country. Sound like a familiar number?

Good, you agree we're not doing enough.

The reality is Canada can only do so much. Besides, our effort is not just measured by bringing people to Canada. Plenty find a way here on their own, and claim asylum on arrival.

We're making it much harder for refugees to do that too. One would think by offsetting one category, the intake would be rising somewhere else, right? Wrong. Canada actually accepted 26 per cent fewer refugees in 2012 than in 2011.

That's the problem with these debates, selective statistics. Canada's office in Damascus processed huge numbers from the region but closed because of the war. Voila. Your skewed data point.

It's amazing how one soundbite of logic can sidetrack a whole body of evidence. Only three times since 1979 has Canada's acceptance rate dipped below 10,000 refugees per year.

Still more than other countries with equal capacity.

Being ahead in refugee resettlement has never hurt us socially or diplomatically.

You're wrong on the latter, and it's no small concern during a complex crisis. Canada has to act in concert with allies, like Turkey, a proponent of regional solutions to the refugee crisis.

Are you telling me that over 20 refugee camps littered at the Turkey-Syria border are a solution?

Are you telling me that a mass airlift is a solution? Turkey has an open-door policy, and already nearly 124,000 refugees have returned to Syria. It's not necessarily the best thing for post-conflict Syria to have its civilians relocated abroad.

Look what's happening to an entire generation during the wait for reconstruction. Education disrupts, health deteriorates, loyalty shifts. Syrian children make up over half the refugee population. That's not a formula for future security.

Well, there's always more one can do.

Syria War In August (Warning: Graphic Images)