It is next to impossible to develop an appropriate plan for dealing with security threats unless you understand what has caused them. And it may seem counterintuitive, at first, to link Canadian national security concerns with international climate change. However, recent negative trends affecting our already fragile climate, and the associated impacts on weather and the global ecosystem, are a real and present danger to our national security.
On this World Refugee Day almost four million Syrian refugees, equivalent to the populations of Toronto and Montreal combined, are far from home and wondering if they will ever return to the life they knew. The Syrian crisis is the largest humanitarian crisis of the 21st century, and its impact is being felt disproportionately by the millions of affected children.
The human rights-interfaith dialogue rhetoric employed by President Obama on May 22, 2015 at the Adas Israel Synagogue in Washington DC was wonderful and made people feel warm inside. But this type of rhetoric is, in fact, messianic -- it is for tomorrow, for a time when there is no more war. That day has not yet come, I am afraid. And to speak as if it has is very dangerous.
Years ago, when I was young and reckless, I backpacked solo through Syria. One morning, at the bus station in Homs, I had to make a spur of the moment decision; I could go west, towards the sea and Lebanon, or I could go east, to the ancient city of Palmyra. I turned west. I never saw Palmyra. The 2000 year old city is now in the hands of ISIS.
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.
There is simply no compatibility between humanitarian action and the use of military force in combat. One has as its singular objective the alleviation of human suffering, regardless of the sufferer's identity or affiliation; the other, by definition, involves taking the side of one group against the other. That's also why it is very worrying to hear that humanitarian assistance is being used as strategic tactic in military action.
Bombing only marginally degrades a group like the Un-Islamic State, who take their strategies from the Hezbollah and Hamas playbook: make equipment highly mobile, and positioning them deep underground or among residential areas. To put it bluntly, fighting ISIL is less effective than tackling the humanitarian crisis from which much extremism originates.
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.