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Rouba Al-Fattal
Rouba Al-Fattal


Europe may be failing Syrian refugees, but Canada shouldn’t boast yet Add to ...

Rouba Al-Fattal is a part-time professor of Middle East and Arab politics at the University of Ottawa.


Canada has met its self-imposed deadline to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees. Should we now pat ourselves on the back for a job well done? Surely not, given that there are still more than four million Syrians seeking refuge, and more than 7.5 million displaced internally in Syria. Taking in refugees is only a start, and should remain a priority within the wider government agenda of addressing Syria’s future.

A UN-backed report in March, 2015, estimated that since the start of the Syrian conflict, the economic loss topped $200-billion (U.S.), with 80 per cent of Syrians living in poverty. The country’s education, health and social-welfare systems have collapsed. No wonder that more than one million people had fled the country, with Europe as their main goal. Thousands died in the attempt, or fell victim to human smuggling. Despite the dangers and costs, refugees continue to make the perilous journey, leading to Europe’s worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

By the end of 2016, Sweden had taken in more than 200,000 asylum-seekers and Germany nearly 1.5 million. Like other Europeans, Germans are growing worried about hosting so many newcomers and political pressure is mounting on Chancellor Angela Merkel. It’s not surprising that xenophobia and right-wing parties are on the rise across Europe.

A month after Denmark passed a law requiring police to confiscate cash and valuables from refugees in an attempt to deter them, French police cleared a makeshift camp for refugees and other unauthorized migrants.

Countries have closed borders, and thousands of refugees are trapped in Greece.

Syrian refugees have been reduced to chess pieces, with France threatening to use them against Britain if the latter ends its membership in the European Union, and Turkey using them as a threat against the EU if the latter doesn’t provide more financial assistance. The most effective way to end the refugee crisis is to end the Syrian conflict, but no solution is in sight.

In contrast to the crisis atmosphere in Europe and the Mideast, Canada is delighted to have saved 25,000 Syrians, and is planning to resettle another 55,000 refugees this year, most of them Syrian. But how many of the first 25,000 have been resettled, and how effectively will they be helped?

More than 1,000 of the newcomers are living in temporary housing. And we still have a shortage of family doctors, a lack of proper dental care for low-income adults and a lack of subsidized daycare spaces for parents who want to learn English. University-age refugees, or those who already have foreign degrees, can’t afford our postsecondary system, sending many to low-income jobs instead. What future do refugees have without proper language training, Canadian education or Canadian work experience?

The government believes it has done a great job for Syrian refugees, but the process has been shouldered mainly by our outstanding communities and volunteers. Our governments at all levels need to co-operate and work much harder to find structural solutions for newcomers, or we will have a failed generation.

Europe might be closing the borders in the face of Syrian refugees, but Canada is as much to blame for giving them hope and making promises that may not be delivered. All the while their fate is in the hands of external powers, who are using them as mere bargaining chips.

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