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Stefan Dolgert is an assistant professor of political science at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.


When people around the world were horrified last month by images of little Alan Kurdi's lifeless body on a Turkish beach, Canadians began asking themselves difficult questions.

Many demanded that Ottawa cut the red tape in Canada's immigration processes, lest other desperate families be forced to risk their lives by making the same perilous journey.

Others urged caution, saying some migrants are not fleeing danger but simply want better economic opportunities, and are using the refugee crisis to mask their true motives in applying to Canada. (Indeed, German officials have said that almost every migrant they are seeing now pretends to be a Syrian refugee, no matter how implausible the claim.)

What to do? As we ponder opening our borders, how worried should we be about migrants using deceit to gain refugee status?

As a political theorist trained in ancient Greek thought, my response to the worry about migrants who lie is: "So what? Let them lie." The original migrant of Western civilization, Homer's Odysseus, can give us some guidance.

Homer, the Greek epic poet who lived about 2,800 years ago, gave us both The Iliad and The Odyssey. The Iliad is primarily about Achilles, a hero whose status comes from the force he wields on the battlefield. The Odyssey, by contrast, is about a different kind of hero.

Odysseus is a warrior like Achilles, but rather than prevailing through force, his victories are mainly achieved through cleverness. And when you remember that mighty Achilles dies without conquering Troy, while Odysseus's stratagem, the Trojan Horse, leads to victory, you might think that old Odysseus was on to something.

But after the war, Odysseus falls on hard times. He loses all his ships and comrades, fights monsters such as the Cyclops and the Sirens, and after a 10-year voyage comes home as a beggar, to find his palace besieged by a gang of louts trying to woo his wife and kill his son. It takes all his guile to evade these villains and get home.

Or maybe it doesn't. The thing is, all of the big events in Odysseus's wanderings – monsters, witches, visits to the underworld – may not have actually happened to him at all. We only hear about them when Odysseus ends up alone in Phaeacia, a poor stranger, and starts telling his hosts these tales as a way to entertain them. What stories he tells: adventures on the high seas, attacks by cannibals, affairs with goddesses. It's all just a bit too rich.

But there is one thing we do know to be "true" in all this: Odysseus always makes himself out to be a sympathetic, suffering victim. Homer suggests, quite clearly, that perhaps the primary aspect of Odysseus's craftiness is his ability to tell a good lie when he needs to.

To be clear, this is not to suggest that today's migrants are more likely than any other people to be unethical or to act illegally. But given their circumstances – especially the narrowly bureaucratic definition of "refugee" that we are currently employing – if they do lie there isn't much that's unethical about it.

When you're risking your life, and those of your children, too, when you don't have a home and are completely at the mercy of fate, you're often left to rely on one tool in your kit: the tall tale.

Like Odysseus, if you have any wits at all, you make up whatever story you think will appeal to your host.

It's difficult to understand why anyone would expect any different. Our culture has been celebrating crafty, yarn-spinning heroes for thousands of years, ever since Homer, so it is unfair to champion Odysseus but then spurn his modern heirs. We can't have it both ways.

Perhaps we should think of it like this: Responding to the current migrant crisis is actually what our education has been preparing us for all along. We just didn't expect we would be acting the part of Odysseus's audience, rather than playing the role of the clever wanderer ourselves.

These people on our doorstep aren't burdens to our society or tax system. Far from it. They're conquerors of sand, wind and waves – people who work, venture and strive.

Aren't they the heroes we have been training to become? Let's let them in, and start our education again.