When I was three, the same age as Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy who washed up on a Turkish beach this week, I became a refugee. But my family did not face the choices his family faced. My story had a different ending, a happy ending. It did because the government of Canada responded to a humanitarian crisis by putting human beings -- and their need for shelter and safety and comfort -- above everything else.
It's something the majority of Canadians intuitively feel: politics and politicians no longer seem like a channel for change or action, and so we tune them out. People and even partisans are disconnected from purpose beyond the election cycle. But in an election framed on change, maybe there's an opportunity here to reconnect politics and purpose.
The searing images of three-year-old Alan Kurdi have moved through cyberspace and galvanized reaction around the world. For Canadians, there are layers and hard questions that go further than our basic human response of sorrow. That's because Alan Kurdi's family could and should have been in Canada by now.
In past refugee crises, Canada has responded swiftly and assertively. From the aftermath of World War II, through crises in Hungary in 1956, Chile in 1973, and Southeast Asia in the late 1970s, Canadians responded generously, receiving on each of those occasions tens of thousands of refugees into our communities. In 1999, Canada took extraordinary measures to evacuate thousands of refugees from Kosovo. Why should we do less now?
Canada offered asylum to a mere 11,000 of the millions of displaced Syrians. Even then, an Ekos poll in March found that 46 per cent of Canadians still feel Canada is accepting too many immigrants and refugees. A poll last year found 42 per cent believe refugees should not be given the same level of health care as Canadian citizens. We don't understand this hardening attitude. Refugees like Nisreen's family aren't criminals or freeloaders. We are just like them. But for the grace of God we could be them.
Yet, it's the luxury liner that brought them here, the beautiful Aquitania, that uniquely captures my attention. Like my family, the ship was tired, battle-weary, but she pushed ahead nonetheless, navigating her way through rough seas, a turbulent winter and plenty of unknowns to reach the final destination. As a proud Canadian and daughter, I'm terribly glad she did.
Over the following months in 2001, the violence continued in Burundi between the rebels and the government. My passion for my work diminished. I no longer felt like doing anything. I even stopped watching the news on TV, or even listening to it on my own radio station. Everything looked hopeless. In 2002, some Canadian journalists visited Burundi. If I were going to ask for help, it was now or never. Six months later, they invited me to visit Canada, and I jumped on the opportunity. I arrived in Canada with $60 in my pocket -- my mother's life savings.
This Saturday, June 20, is the UN World Refugee Day. It's a day set aside every year to recognize the plight of refugees and acknowledge the efforts of those who assist them, often in the face of life-threatening obstacles. We need to recognize realities but not despair. We need to focus the global mind on our collective responsibility. We need to roll up our sleeves and help those who are so deserving of our assistance while urging others to double and triple their efforts to end the underlying conditions that have created this unacceptable human catastrophe.
On World Refugee Day 2015 (June 20), events around the world recognize the more than 50 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. It is a day to reflect on the strength and resilience of the millions who have fled their countries and we acknowledge the efforts of individuals and groups who are devoted to supporting refugee populations.
I was recently directed to an article that discussed the phenomenon of visible minorities working in Toronto restaurant kitchens. Interestingly, the Sri Lankan Tamil community was cited as staffing almost a third of these kitchens. However, few visible minorities, including Tamils, have found success in the "front of the house" as restaurateurs or culinary chefs.
The number of deaths have been mounting over the years. The International Organization of Migration estimates that somewhere in the range of 20,000 women, men and children have drowned in the Mediterranean between 2000 and 2014, while trying to reach safety and new lives in Europe. Canada can and should be central to international efforts to address the underlying crises in Syria, Eritrea and other countries, propelling the displacement that leads to the Mediterranean. This is not a crisis that Canada should simply observe and lament.
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.
Logic would dictate that big-earning millionaires continue to earn big after settling in Canada. They might take a pause from their business activities while they settle in to their new country, but it's only a matter of time before the money, and the trickle-down benefits, start flowing, right? Not so.
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?
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.