As the crisis in Syria continues, a devastating human disaster is unfolding right in front of our eyes. One can't watch or read the news without seeing images of women, children and men fleeing unspeakable violence in the most desperate ways possible (including this gripping image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi).
The crisis calls upon great nations like Canada to help alleviate the devastation. Our willingness as a country to step up and demonstrate kindness and compassion in the face of grave human tragedy is rightfully a point of pride for Canadians.
The issue of Canada accepting 25,000 Syrian refugees by January 1 has been dominated by questions of security and logistics. Particularly since Friday's gruesome attacks in Paris, and especially since news broke that a Syrian passport (since proven to be fake) was found near the body of one of the suicide bombers, people have expressed understandable concern about how Canada will be able to bring tens of thousands of people from a war zone into the country safely and securely.
I acknowledge that good, well-meaning people who genuinely care about Syrian refugees can have perfectly valid concerns about the security risk of bringing in tens of thousands of people from a war zone. It is as large an undertaking as it sounds.
So, in light of Canadian political leaders (like Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and others on the right) playing on Canadians' concerns to spread fear and disinformation, I decided to research how Canada screens, accepts and settles Syrian refugees. It is my hope we can dispel fear and confusion with facts, reason and compassion.
1. Refugees coming to Canada will undergo three separate screening processes.
First, they are selected from those screened by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. The UNHCR uses sophisticated anti-fraud tools like biometrics. They also use a rigorous five-step process.
Second, they are interviewed before coming to Canada.
Third, once in Canada, they are screened by Canada's security services.
Thanks to these precautions, security experts say the chances of an ISIS terrorist getting through are infinitesimal.
2. Canada is prioritizing families (particularly female-headed households), unaccompanied minors and the sick, not single individuals.
These groups were selected because they pose the least risk of radicalization.
3. Not accepting refugees is an even greater threat to national security.
According to leading experts in national security, terrorism, radicalization and intelligence -- like Munk School of Public Affairs Prof. Wesley Wark and Georgetown University Prof. Anne Speckhard -- filthy and unsafe refugee camps are hotbeds for extremism.
Perhaps not surprisingly, terrorists find it remarkably easy to recruit fighters in squalid and hopeless camps teeming with desperate and disenfranchised people.
According to Prof. Speckhard, "Experience from many conflict zones teaches us that the longer these refugees are left to languish in despair in camps the more prone they become to radicalization."
4. Accepting refugees strikes a blow at ISIS.
ISIS relies on extortion and the taxes they collect from the vast swaths of territory they control. The New York Times reports that extortion and taxation, as well as kidnapping ransoms, accounted for $620 million in 2014. That's more than the $600 million they made by stealing from state-owned banks in Iraq and from oil sales.
"They want to stop the refugee process because one of their main sources of income in the ISIS-controlled territory is taxation of the people there, extortion of the people there,"according to University of Ottawa law professor Errol Mendes.
5. ISIS is relying on the West to refuse Syrian refugees and increased Islamophobia in the West to aid their recruitment efforts.
ISIS has released a video telling fleeing Syrian refugees that the "infidel" West will never accept them, and that even if we do, we'd make them give up Islam.
Nearly all of the terrorists in the Paris attacks were raised in France or Belgium. This shows that, while ISIS is a threat, its greatest threat lies in its ability convince alienated Muslim youth in North America and Europe that they belong not in the West, but in ISIS' so-called caliphate.
The sheer scale of Syrian refugees' suffering compels us to act. To turn a blind eye to appalling human rights atrocities when it is in our capacity to help would be an abdication of Canadians' values, principles and sense of right and wrong.
Compassion calls on us to act. In this case, so too does our strategic interest.
By responding compassionately rather than reacting hysterically, and by demonstrating the eternal Canadian values of acceptance and pluralism, we will defeat ISIS.
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