09/14/2015 05:16 EDT | Updated 09/14/2016 05:12 EDT

How Canadians Really Feel About Refugees

Despite cries for justice and humanitarianism, public reactions have been, in some cases, heinous. Comments sections of online news stories can be telling. In forums where readers give anonymous feedback, commenters have free rein to speak their minds.

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Sad Asian boy behind barbed wire. Focus on barbed wire. Like a refugee camp.


The silent majority doesn't want them. For obvious reasons.

Here in Munich, social media networks have been abuzz 24 hours a day with updates on arriving refugees. Volunteers enthusiastically dedicate their time, clothes and food to new arrivals. Makeshift information points and temporary housing facilities have been erected to house thousands of new arrivals into Germany and throughout the rest of Europe. Like many other refugee advocates, I am thoroughly humbled and beyond impressed by the public response to people in need.

Humanitarian organizations and refugee advocates around the world are celebrating this outpouring of support for refugees which intensified after the body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed ashore in Turkey. In contrast to media coverage which frequently paints asylum seekers as security threats and criminals, recent reports have urged the global community to do more in helping refugees. The Canadian government has been criticized for its exclusionary immigration policies which have transformed Canada's immigration system to the detriment of refugees.


...these refugees bring an evil doctrine in their shrouded heads, a doctrine that is bound to destroy democracy.

Despite cries for justice and humanitarianism, public reactions have been, in some cases, heinous. Comments sections of online news stories can be telling. In forums where readers give anonymous feedback, commenters have free rein to speak their minds. In response to a CBC news article reporting nationwide rallies of support for refugees in Canada, the commentary section quickly filled with emotionally charged posts. With screen names like "WecomeToCanadanistan" and "M'Balz Es-Hari," CBC community members displayed intense anti-muslim sentiments.


Refugees not welcome here. Get a gun and go free your country.

Comments sections of online news articles notoriously attract those with extremist views, causing the usefulness of such forums to come into question. Nevertheless, the disdain and apathy which shine through these comments represents the doubt and fear experienced by refugee receiving societies.

Commenters often claim, "we're too full," "we need to take care of our own," or, "we have to consider national security." What most people don't realize (and what some governments tend to ignore) is that by signing the Convention and subsequent Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, many countries are legally required to assist refugees. These laws were created during the Second World War, in part, because countless people died when countries like Canada refused to help. Participating states have a legal obligation to set aside resources for victims, to grant asylum to those who need it and to design and maintain appropriate security measures.

Why did countries sign on to such an agreement? Because it became clear in 1947 that war creates devastation which does not recognize borders. Crises aren't always contained within the neat little packages we call nations. Famine, religious upheaval, war, climate change and disease are complex problems. Solutions must often be solved by thinking outside the national box. That means, telling refugees to "get a gun and go free your country," isn't quite a viable solution.


Just let them kill one another off. They are not our responsibility. They will just bring us trouble and we already have enough of that.

Do you feel upset that your country has to uphold international laws? Don't be. You may, one day, count your lucky stars. We live in uncertain times where the economy is unstable and unpredictable. Where climate change and diminishing resources coupled with political corruption can cause massive unrest in a short period of time. You are not immune to it. None of us are. If history has taught us anything, it's that circumstances can change quickly and, at the end of the day, we all want to protect the lives and futures of ourselves and our families, even if we have to relocate to do so.

Each influx of refugees has been accused of moral evils, of having ulterior motives, carrying disease or adhering to strange cultural norms. Tamil refugees, Vietnamese boat people, the 18th century Scotsmen, the Irish of the potato famine, the Jewish during WWII; the list goes on and on. They were all denounced by Canadians. They were dangerous and apt to destroy our culture. And you might say, "Yes, but that was different because..." And of course it was different. But it was also the same. People who risk their lives to escape to a country where they will start from zero, where they don't speak the language, where they have no guarantee of a roof over their heads nor food to eat; these people are generally not out to destroy your lives. Nor do they have the means to do so.


Are these people crazy?! Take a look around you -- there are too many "refugees" in Canada already.

Social media provides us with a unique opportunity to discuss important issues. We have access to tools which allow us to communicate with people around the world. This becomes particularly useful during global crises. Our opportunity is wasted when an online conversation becomes a one-sided perpetuation of hate and fear.

Your government is listening. If CBC member comments are any indication of how Canadian citizens feel about refugees, then it's no wonder Stephen Harper has relinquished any trace of humanitarianism in our immigration system. Let us take advantage of online tools provided by media organizations by engaging with one another respectfully in finding solutions and carving out a path toward the future. If informed, public discussions on immigration issues cannot be carried out in a constructive and positive way, then any successful integration of refugees is bound to fail.


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