By Gloria Nafziger, Refugee Campaigner for Amnesty International Canada
Late Friday bombs exploded in Paris. People out for an evening of friendship and entertainment were gunned down without warning. Horror, fear and terror followed. As the carnage abated, the identities of those thought to be responsible for the killings began to come to light. Several were thought to be citizens of Belguim. At least two others are believed to be French.
But what got the most attention was the revelation that two of the attackers carried Syrian passports. It is believed that they may have recently entered Europe as a part of the massive flow of more than 700,000 refugees who have sought safety in Europe this past year.
Two out of a near million are believed to have participated in a horrible and violent act. This revelation is seen by many as evidence that we must close all borders to refugees. In Canada many petitions quickly found their way onto websites, calling on Canada to immediately withdraw its promise to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees. How can we be sure that we do not allow people into Canada who are planning acts of violence?
There is no question that Canada and all other nations need to be concerned about random acts of violence and terror attacks. But it does not follow that the refugees who are fleeing terror are those from whom we must be afraid. Indeed, these refugees are themselves fleeing the same terror and fear. Like us, they too are looking for places of safety and security.
The acts of violence against civilians in Beirut, Baghdad, Ankara, Paris or anywhere else must remind us that now more than ever, Canada needs to be a place of safety for those who are fleeing war. Those who invoke acts of terror meet their goals when we close our doors. That is exactly what they want.
We must be a part of the solution and one part of that solution is providing safety. We don’t do this blindly. In the selection and resettlement of refugees, Canada undertakes security screening. There are multiple agents involved in this screening including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Canadian visa officers. The screening allows us to identify populations of people who present a low ‘security’ threat. Family units, female headed households, human rights defenders, people with family already in Canada, members of the LGBTI community are all groups of people who pose a significantly reduced threat to others. This type of screening also helps us identify the special vulnerabilities and protection needs of the refugees most at risk.
Our greatest safety lays in managing and maintaining safe and legal routes for refugees to enter Canada. Our safety lies in upholding and respecting human rights, and ensuring those responsible for human rights abuses are held accountable and brought to justice. Our safety does not lie in turning our backs on those fleeing terror; leaving them to die in a burning house. Our safety lies in responding to the need, putting in place programs and services to select and resettle refugees in Canada and in treating refugees with dignity and respect.
Refugees live among us now. They are our neighbours all across Canada. They have come from all corners of the world. We are a better country because we have been able to embrace diversity and welcome the ‘other.’ The minute we give in to fear we have given in to terror. We are Paris. We are Beirut, We are Baghdad. We are the world. We are a place of refuge. Refugees are Welcome Here.