Opening doors, and hearts, to newcomers

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A community’s commitment to humanitarian aid is judged, in the final analysis, not so much by its words but by its deeds.

That’s why a story, detailing Moncton’s efforts to accommodate Syrian refugees, published earlier this week by Moncton’s Times & Transcript should warm the cockles of even the most curmudgeonly hearts.

“Moncton fire Chief Eric Arsenault, who is. . .the city’s director of emergency planning, quarterbacks (a) meeting of about a dozen people in a small room on city hall’s sixth floor,” writes reporter Jim Foster. “He keeps his questions short and expects answers that are equally concise.

“What solution has been found for the issue. . .about finding Syrian newcomers proper medical care? What’s been done to reach out to potential corporate donors?”

Says Mr. Arsenault: “I tell people that the future of our community depends on us doing a good job here.”

He’s right, of course.

The challenges, right across Canada, have been enormous. Hurdling linguistic barriers, finding affordable housing, locating and deploying even the most basic social services have not always met with success. And there are some legitimate questions about the federal government’s follow-through with the provinces, cities and towns that have agreed to welcome Syrian newcomers.

Still, this goes with the territory. The alternative is, in any case, far worse.

According to a Government of Canada website, “The ongoing conflict in Syria has triggered the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. The United Nations (reports that) 13.5 million people inside Syria need urgent help, including 6.5 million who are internally displaced. It is estimated that well over 250,000 people have died in the conflict, with hundreds of thousands more wounded. Almost 4.6 million Syrians have sought refuge in the neighbouring countries of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Thousands more have made the harrowing journey to Europe in search of a better life.”

This country’s response has been broadly laudable. “Canada has given generously to the various international efforts to support the Syrian people, including those living as refugees in neighboring countries,” the government site notes. “To date, Canada has committed over $969 million in humanitarian, development and security assistance.”

What’s more, “As millions of Syrians continue to be displaced due to conflict, the Government of Canada (is working) with Canadians, including private sponsors, non-governmental organizations, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees. This is in addition to 23,218 Iraqi refugees resettled as of November 2, 2015, and the 3,089 Syrian refugees who have already arrived in Canada from January 1, 2014, to November 3, 2015.”

In fact, the Syrian crisis is of a piece. The UN refugee agency recently confirmed that the number of people around the world displaced from their homes and driven from their native countries due to war and famine has reached 50 million for the first time since the end of World War II. These malevolent forces are indiscriminate arbiters of misery, affecting victims from every social and economic class.

Last year, the Washington Post reported, “The rapidly escalating figures reflect a world of renewed conflict, with wars in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe driving families and individuals from their homes in desperate flights for safety. But the systems for managing those flows are breaking down, with countries and aid agencies unable to handle the strain as an average of nearly 45,000 people a day join the ranks of those either on the move or stranded.”

It’s good to know that Moncton’s band of volunteers is demonstrating, by their actions, that they are, indeed, handling the strain.

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