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World looks on as humanitarian crisis unfolds

Photo by CC Defense-Visual-Information-Centre

Syrian refugees have been seeking asylum in other countries since protests against the Assad government developed into a civil war in 2011. Thousands of refugees have tried to escape the conflict by making perilous journeys by boat, car, and foot.

While the issue has been bubbling away, it has now boiled over into the mindset of Canadians after graphic photos were published showing a three-year-old casualty of the crisis, Alan Kurdi, drowned on a beach. The boy, along with his old brother Galib, and mother Rehana, died after the boat they were using to flee Turkey to Greece, sank in a storm.

The family had relatives in Canada although it’s unclear as to where the  family was planning on heading after reaching safety.

Syrian refugees make up about one in every five people in Lebanon, one in thirteen people in Jordan, and there are over one and a half million Syrian refugees in Turkey according to a Mercy Corps report. These refugees from countries like Syria, Iraq, Somalia among others, are now beginning to enter Europe in large numbers, hoping to move west and putting a huge strain on local governments and infrastructure.

The reality is that this world is now engulfed in one of the largest humanitarian crises of our time. A nation is facing internal political turmoil combined with outside pressure from Islamic State forces and its population is fleeing, looking to a globalized world to help, but being met with a system that is simply not prepared.

Governments in the areas these refugees are passing through don’t have the resources to help all while at the same time making it more difficult for refugees to move into other countries by limiting available transportation.  The international community needs to step up and do more to support the refugees.

Overall the  international community has been slow to act on this crisis, although this past week has seen major developments such as Germany announcing that it can take 500,000 refugees a year and the United Kingdom agreeing to accept 20,000 refugees. This past week has also seen responses from major political parties in Canada in response to Alan Kurdi’s death. The issue has quickly become a major point in the federal election, with many promises to help more refugees being thrown around.

The Conservative party has promised to accept 10,000 refugees over the next four years, the Liberals have promised to bring in 25,000 over an unspecified time line, while the NDP have committed to accepting 10,000 refugees before 2015 is over.

Some people make the argument that accepting refugees will put more strain on the Canadian economy and impede the daily routine of  Canadians.  They point out the impact that crowds of refugees are having as  they move through Europe.

This is a moment when we have to step back from our economic troubles, and focus on the difficulties shared by all people.  To tell a person who is fleeing for their life that we can’t help them because we’d like to focus on growing our economy is like looking at the disturbing photos of Alan Kurdi and feeling nothing. 

Humanity needs to band together and do all we can to help these people start new lives.

In twenty years Canada should be able to say that it had a positive impact on solving this crisis, but unfortunately our nation hasn’t yet given history books a reason to even consider us for that kind of commentary.