Cross Country Checkup

Should Canada accept more of the migrants escaping across the Mediterranean to Europe?

Millions of people are on the move, gambling their lives to escape war, conflict and the destroyed economies in Africa and the Middle-East. Tens of thousands are trying to enter Europe via the Mediterranean. Should Canada do more?
A Syrian mother tries to warm up her daugter after they arrived on the island of Lesbos, early on June 18, 2015. Some 48,000 migrants and refugees have landed on Greek shores so far this year, compared to 34,000 arrivals during all of 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). (Louisa Gouliamaki/Getty Images)

Migrant Crisis: Millions of people are on the move gambling their lives to escape war, conflict and the destroyed economies of Africa and the Middle-East. Tens of thousands are trying to enter Europe via the Mediterranean. Thousands are dying.

What's the answer? Should Canada do more?



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If humanity can be said to move in waves, then the calamity washing up on European shores is a tsunami of human misery. For weeks the world has watched as migrants and refugees in their thousands have made the last perilous lunge from North Africa, across the Mediterranean, to the shores of Europe. In leaky barges and rusting hulks the dispossessed and the desperate stake all they have... their meagre fortunes, their lives, their children's lives... for the promise of a future unmolested by war and want.

This is the front line in the largest movement of humanity since the end of the Second World War. Sixty million migrants, refugees and internally displaced people according to the United Nations. Their ranks swelled in the last four years by the cruel and unremitting conflict in Syria. More than 11-million Syrians are on the move... either dodging bombs and bullets in their own country, huddled in squalid refugee camps, or waiting for human smugglers to ferry them across to Europe.

To date Europe's leaders have appeared perplexed by the vast influx. Are they refugees, asylum seekers or just migrants in search of an easier life? Lawyers and politicians bicker over their motivations for seeking sanctuary... debate who will bear the economic burden of rescuing, feeding and sheltering the fortunate few who make it. German Chancellor Angela Merkel says it is the toughest challenge Europe has faced during her many years in office. The European Union has so far failed to reach agreement on resettling just 40-thousand refugees among its 28 member states.

As Europe struggles to save lives and develop a coherent policy on the crisis, the rest of the world watches from a distance.

Our question today... Should Canada accept more of the migrants and refugees trying to get in to Europe?  What should we be doing to alleviate the suffering?

Forty years ago the world faced a similar crisis and Canada answered. The end of the Vietnam war led to a flood of refugees abandoning the privations of communist tyranny. They set to sea in fragile fishing boats and leaky trawlers. Tens of thousands drowned. But the world, and Canada responded. In one eighteen month period from 1979, Canadians resettled 60,000 boat people.

By comparison it has taken Canada nearly three years to find room for 1300 Syrian refugees. The government has promised to take in another 10,000 over the next three years. But refugee proponents say we can accommodate almost three times that number. Is Canada doing enough to respond to this latest crisis?  Should refugee organizations and churches lead as they did with Operation Lifeline in 1979? Then-prime minister Joe Clark forged a coalition of government, bureaucracy and private that worked together to rescue Vietnamese refugees. Should the same be done today, or is the Syrian crisis different?

Canada is not indifferent to refugees. We have accepted more than 20,000 Iraqis since 2009. But our overall refugee intake has fallen sharply. According to the UNHCR Canada has dropped from 5th highest refugee recipient in the world in 2000, to 15th last year. Should Canada accept more of the migrants and refugees trying to get in to Europe? What should we be doing to alleviate the suffering?

I'm Harry Forestell  ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius XM, satellite radio channel 169 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.


Margaret Evans
CBC Europe Correspondent
Twitter: @mevansCBC

Gisèle Nyembwe​
External affairs associate with UN Refugee Agency in Canada (UNHCR)
Twitter: @giselenyembwe

Faisal Alazem​
Syrian Canadian Council spokesman, Co-founder of the Syrian Kids Foundation

Naomi Alboim
LifelineSyria, ​Adjunct professor, School of Policy Studies at Queen's University
Twitter: @LifelineSyria


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