Syrian refugee crisis 'a disgrace' says Nenshi as Albertans try to help

The world is watching in horror as the image of a young boy, face down and dead on a Mediterranean shoreline, flashes across screens and screams out from newspaper front pages, bringing the ongoing Middle East refugee crisis into sharp relief.

Local organizations working to bring more people to Canada to help relieve pressure and provide shelter

A Macedonian police officer raises his baton towards migrants to stop them from entering into Macedonia at Greece's border near the village of Idomeni in August. (Alexandros Avramidis/Reuters)

EDITOR'S NOTE (GRAPHIC WARNING): This story contains a graphic photograph of a young boy who died, an image some viewers may find disturbing. It is embedded at the bottom of this story, after the last paragraph of text. CBC News has decided to include the photo to allow for the fullest understanding of the event, but we do want to give readers the option to not scroll down and click away if they don't want to see it.

The world is watching in horror as the image of a young boy — Alan Kurdi — face down and dead on a Mediterranean shoreline, flashes across screens and screams out from newspaper front pages, bringing the ongoing Middle East refugee crisis into sharp relief. 

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has temporarily suspended his re-election campaign to deal with the crisis a day after defending the government's handling of the crisis while blaming the media for a lack of coverage.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi, speaking on Thursday, lashed out at what he sees as "the mean-spiritedness that seems to have snuck into our political discourse."

"We're a country of generosity and we're a country of opportunity. The fact that we have not even taken the Syrian refugees that we have committed to take, let alone taking many more people who are fleeing the most desperate situation only looking for opportunity in the world, to me is a disgrace," he said.

In Calgary, however, there are those who have been working to bring more refugees from the Middle East to Canada to help ease the burden on countries that cannot keep up with the massive migration and to give peace and shelter to those on the move.

Mennonite Central Committee

The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), which has an agreement with the federal government to sponsor refugees, is working with families and Muslim communities to bring people to Canada.

"We have an open-door policy now where communities can come to us and sponsor those refugees," said Orlando Vasquez with the MCC.

Those wanting to bring family or friends to Canada must bring permanent resident applications to the committee, which will review the application and ensure it fits within the framework before sending it off to the government. 

They have seen people arrive as quickly as six months after an application is sent to the originating country.  

Alan Kurdi and his older brother Galib, seen in an undated family photo, drowned along with their mother trying to escape Syria. (Tima Kurdi/Canadian Press)

Faribroz Birjandian, the executive director of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, has been in the business of helping refugees for decades. Before that he had to flee his home country as a refugee, and for that reason he says the picture of Kurdi is especially haunting.

"My children were three and five when we had to escape Iran because of religious persecution, so it means a lot to me. It actually makes me feel ill seeing something like that," he said.

'Happening over and over'

Abe Janzen, also with MCC, says the crisis overseas is overwhelming for the refugees and for the countries trying to take them in.

"What happens when a city like Calgary doubles its population in two weeks? We can't sustain it, and so it becomes difficult for everyone," he said.

"We have a huge international crisis, we all have to own it. This is not a place where we want to say this country or that country should do more, we all need to own this together."

Janzen says something has to give.

"It spills over. It's going to keep spilling over. This family, this tragedy that we all saw yesterday, is happening over and over because of that tragedy that has people coming out of Syria, out of Iraq, into the neighbouring countries and onto the shores of the Mediterranean."

Birjandian says if all the talk turns into action for Syrian refugees, this young child's death will not be in vain. 

A rally to address the Syrian refugee crisis is being held on Friday at Calgary's City Hall at 6 p.m.

Turkish gendarmerie stand near by the washed up body of Alan Kurdi, who drowned during a failed attempt to sail to the Greek island of Kos. (Dogan News Agency/EPA)


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