An eight-year-old girl, a Syrian refugee living in Lebanon, is someone I know only from a photograph. I was captivated by the girl whose schooling was so critical to her, that she grabbed her report card while fleeing the rocket attacks on her home town. That was two years ago. I've been unable to find any recent updates on Jouri.
The Syrian conflict is entering its fifth horrific year of escalating violence, with little sign of ending. More than 200,000 people have been killed, 10,000 of them children. Today over 12.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, including 5.6 million children. Almost 11 million Syrians have been displaced within and outside Syria, including 3.3 million refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. More than half of the refugee population are children, and 114,000 children have been born as refugees.
The Syrian conflict has passed two sobering milestones. The civil war -- now entering its fourth year -- has now claimed more than 200,000 lives and forced more than three million people to flee the country. The Canadian government can and should be playing a more direct role in addressing the refugee crisis in Lebanon by immediately increasing our humanitarian assistance.
When I asked in question period on February 20th whether the Minister of International Development would personally attend the donor conference, pledge, and champion 5.6 million Syrian children, Canada's Parliamentary Secretary replied that: "We are still in consideration of whether or not the minister is going to attend that."
Militias set fire to homes with families still inside. From her safe refuge here in Canada, Dahlia heard the horrific reports and knew she had to get her family out of Syria. But to sponsor them as refugees in Canada would take an agonizing 18 months of bureaucracy and cost tens of thousands of dollars. Dahlia's ordeal raises the question, Are the demands of sponsorship too great for Canadians to bear?
The number of major crises taking place around the globe this past year has been unparalleled in recent history. In fact, 2014 often seemed filled with intractable emergencies that were simply too big, too complex and too daunting to fathom, let alone solve. This felt particularly true when it came to humanitarian action.
During this holiday season, Canadians come together to care for one another -- we find ways to support our local communities. As we get ready to celebrate the beginning of 2015, I would like to share with you my wishes for the children who are suffering through the world's worst humanitarian crises.
Despite government statements that Canada has done "more than any of our allies," our allies have introduced smart humanitarian policies that have moved far more Syrians abroad than anything Ottawa has yet introduced. Canada can look to them - Germany, Sweden, Norway, Brazil and more - for inspiration.
Challenging the wisdom of charging into a region the West has shown a reckless propensity to misunderstand is not cowardly -- it is prudent. Innocent people are indeed dying and have already died, but will our bombs "save" them? Probably not. In fact, there's a risk they may accelerate the killing. Asking these questions is not naive. Not asking them is downright foolish.
So many young Canadians are looking to make their mark on the world. Some pick up a shovel to build a school or a ladle in soup kitchens to serve the homeless. A small number choose a different way, traveling to Syria to pick up an AK-47. Where does the road diverge between the youth who choose the path of helping and those on the path of harm? And for those on the road toward extremism, are there points along their journey where they might be set on a positive path?
Syria was intolerable long before ISIS existed. It was so intolerable that brainwashed Syrian schoolchildren like me -- Christians, Muslims, and all other faiths -- have grown up to free their minds and sacrifice their lives by the thousands for a free Syria. The international community ignored our cries. Now that the Islamic State is in the picture, the world is paying attention to Syria again. As the world fights the radical presence of ISIS, they must keep in mind that Assad and the Islamic State are two sides of the same coin. They are both brutal, bloodthirsty murderers. If we destroy ISIS now, another ISIS will quickly emerge. I believe that the only way to destroy ISIS is to destroy Assad too.
Zahar and Baghdadi, Hamas and ISIS share the same final goal: democracy must give way to theocracy, plural religions to a single Islamist belief, freedom to submission and social equality to the dictates of Sharia rule. Standing against Hamas and ISIS terrorism transcends politics and party lines. The rights and freedoms that comprise the very heart of our way of life are under direct attack in the Middle East from these and other groups seeking to build a radical, theocratic mega-state across the region, and, if they can achieve it, even beyond.
The Western interest in dismantling the Syrian regime was motivated by two factors. First, the Syrian regime had proven to be a sustained source of discomfort for Israel. Containing Syria meant additional operational space for Israel. The second factor had to do with the Arab regimes' interest in containing Iran's rising influence in the region.