No room at the inn

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A dangerously divisive tendency raises its ugly head whenever people’s lives are on the line. It’s understandable. But that should not mean that we succumb to the point-counter-point of public stupidity.

When the mayors of Moncton and Fredericton, New Brunswick, ask the federal government to slow the stream of Syrian refugees into their urban areas, they do so with heavy hearts, not light heads.

They do so because their own community advisors have told them that their cities are simply not equipped to accommodate hundreds of newcomers in such a short period.

They do so because they know that those who will suffer most are not the apartment complex owners or hoteliers, but the refugees, themselves – the last people anyone wants to see jumping from the Middle Eastern frying pan into the cold, baleful fire of a late Maritime winter.

Yet, here we are, witnessing another disgraceful display of politics-as-usual in New Brunswick.

In a speech earlier this month, Premier Brian Gallant took a backhanded swipe at both Moncton and Fredericton city officials, declaring, “First off, we should remind ourselves that taking in Syrian refugees is the right thing to do. We have a role to play as a country to help these people who are living in a terrible situation. Secondly, this is good for New Brunswick. We have an aging population – more people means more people in our workforce, more people buying and our economy expanding.”

With all due respect Mr. Premier, but have you spent any time in the communities you purport to represent?

No one, and I mean no one, is raising the ugly specter of xenophobia (even as you quite casually equate desperate refugees with a jobs-boom opportunity in the province).

Syrian newcomers across this province, this country, are bivouacking in hotels where there’s nothing to do, no one to talk to, no schools to speak of, and little food they can tolerate. Community leaders and charitable groups are running themselves ragged not to bend over to refugee demands, but to compensate for the appalling lack of logistical support from all levels of the Canadian government – especially the federal one.

As Rouba Al-Fattal, a part-time professor of Middle East and Arab politics at the University of Ottawa, wrote in the Globe and Mail recently,How many of the first 25,000 (Syrians) have been resettled (in Canada), and how effectively will they be helped?

“More than 1,000 of the newcomers are living in temporary housing. And we still have a shortage of family doctors, a lack of proper dental care for low-income adults and a lack of subsidized daycare spaces for parents who want to learn English. University-age refugees, or those who already have foreign degrees, can’t afford our postsecondary system, sending many to low-income jobs instead. What future do refugees have without proper language training, Canadian education or Canadian work experience?”

The knee-jerk reaction of politicians – if you’re against our latest, bumble-headed policies, programs and procedures to lighten the load on the most disadvantaged among us, then you must be against the most disadvantaged among us – is rhetoric at its most despicable.

Governments: Fix the housing problem, the educational problem, the social integration problem, the language problem for refugees and immigrants, alike. That’s how you make earnest citizens, frankly, of everyone.

As for the vast majority of Moncton and Fredericton residents, we can’t wait to provide this new wave of newcomers everything a decent, tolerant life in a peaceful, open society offers.

We just wish our federal government, and some of its provincial mouthpieces, had come to the same conclusion.

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