It’s a truism that bears repeating: We all came from somewhere else. Canadians remember this to their credit as they prepare to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees this year and early next.
Of these, New Brunswick is on tap to resettle about 1,500 in Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton. In fact, all regions of this country are old hands at this form of humanitarian aid.
According to one federal government web site, “Our compassion and fairness are a source of great pride for Canadians. These values are at the core of our domestic refugee protection system and our Resettlement Assistance Program. Both programs have long been praised by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).”
The system works this way: “Refugees selected for resettlement to Canada have often fled their homes because of unimaginable hardships and have, in many cases, been forced to live in refugee camps for many years. When they arrive in Canada, they basically pick up the pieces of their lives and start over again.
“As a member of the international community, Canada helps find solutions to prolonged and emerging refugee situations and helps emerging democracies try to solve many of the problems that create refugee populations. To do this, Canada works closely with the UNHCR.”
Crucially, “Under our legislation, all resettlement cases must be carefully screened to ensure that there are no issues related to security, criminality or health. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) works with its security partners such as the Canada Border Services Agency to complete this work as quickly as possible.”
Meanwhile, “Private sponsors across the country also help resettle refugees to Canada. Some are organized to do so on an ongoing basis and have signed sponsorship agreements with the Government of Canada to help support refugees from abroad when they resettle in Canada. These organizations are known as Sponsorship Agreement Holders. They can sponsor refugees themselves or work with others in the community to sponsor refugees. Other sponsors, known as Groups of Five and Community Sponsors, are persons/groups in the community who are not involved on an ongoing basis but have come together to sponsor refugee(s).”
All of which is to say that despite the appearance of cultural homogeneity along the East Coast, the Maritimes remains one of the most diverse and hospitable places in one of the most welcoming nations in the world for people in trouble. Well, most of the time.
“Even before the attacks in Paris last week, some Canadians were already chattering about security risks and the threat of insurgents sneaking through,” notes Robert J. Talbot, a postdoctoral fellow in history at the University of New Brunswick, in a recent piece for iPolitics. “Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, in particular, made political hay out of the crisis.”
But, Mr. Talbot adds, “the British refugees of two hundred years ago wanted the same thing that the Syrian refugees seek today: to settle down to quiet, peaceful and productive lives, for themselves and for their families. . .The year 1783 is far removed from the here and now, but the fact remains that many of us and our ancestors – my own Loyalist ancestors included – came here as refugees. French Huguenots fleeing religious fundamentalism, Iroquoian First Nations fleeing American expansionism, British Loyalists fleeing radical republicanism, Irish Catholics fleeing famine, German Mennonites (perhaps some of Brad Wall’s ancestors) fleeing Russian nationalism, Europeans fleeing fascism, Vietnamese fleeing communism, Kosovars fleeing ethnic cleansing, and now, Syrians fleeing suicidal nihilism.”
At the centre of this nation is a great heart that understands implicitly that these truisms do, indeed, bear repeating.