The world is awash in refugees. And the world is closing its eyes and its doors. Crawford Killian writes:
According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, over 65 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced — the equivalent of almost two Canadas. More than 21 million are refugees, half of them from just three countries: Somalia, Afghanistan, and Syria. And more than half of those 21 million are under the age of 18.
Whether we like it or not, we’re in the midst of the greatest displacement of people in human history, and it will only get worse. Climate change is making vast stretches of Africa and the Middle East uninhabitable, fit only for warlords to fight over. Climate-driven wars, droughts, and floods will force still more from the tropics to the temperate zones.
Not all will die on Libyan beaches. Some will make it to Mexico, or the U.S., and then to the Canadian border. Millions, already living in the U.S., will head north — spurred by new deportation rules now being developed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
We can also expect plenty of native-born Americans following the Vietnam war resisters of the 1960s, not to mention expatriate Canadians running for home while the running is good.
The question isn't should we accept them. After all, we are a nation of refugees:
The United Empire Loyalists were refugees. So were the Irish fleeing the potato famine of the 1840s and the Black people escaping slavery in the American South. The Doukhobors were Russian refugees, their escape paid for by Leo Tolstoy’s book royalties.
The question is how do we accept them. Killian suggests that we:
Pour money into provincial school systems and post-secondaries, especially for English and French language training. Most refugees are young, and half are children. Move them through the system toward jobs and careers we’ll need, and then deliver the jobs.
Find or build housing in smaller towns and cities to shelter refugees while they learn the language and the country. The money will boost local economies and create a climate of opportunity for refugee entrepreneurs to open their own businesses. Canadians have acquired a taste for global cuisine in the past half-century, and I can’t wait to try Syrian and Somali cuisine.
Pour more money into healthcare, especially mental health. No one is displaced without suffering severe stress, and refugees will need strong support to get through a very bad time. Once through it, they’ll give back far more than they received.
Fast-track the professionals among the refugees. The doctors, teachers, and engineers should resume their careers as soon as possible. Many will have U.S. experience, and will settle in quickly. But all should find meaningful work.
Use the refugees to create the infrastructure for future waves. Because they will assuredly come, like the multiple waves of a tsunami.
That means spending money. But that's how we have built this country. If done right, refugees become an asset, not a burden.