Syrian Refugees

To readers of my blog:

A few of you have inquired what I am up to since I have not sent out a blog for ten days. Basically, I am serving as an indentured unpaid but voluntary bondsman on Vancouver Island helping my son Daniel establish his aquaponics business on the farm he purchased near Duncan, BC. I am also helping another son in providing feedback on his film script. I am also catching up on long delays to answering my correspondence. (I receive an average of fifty emails per day, about 5-20 requiring answers and 1 or more needing extensive replies. I have written parts of three different blogs but had to get on the road again to get here, and since then have been so busy that they were never completed. I will try to get back to them this week. However, in the interim, you may be interested in one reply to an inquiry that I sent out this morning on Syrian refugees. The reply follows a copy of the inquiry.

 

Dear Mr. Adelman,

Hi! I would like to thank you for being willing to do this interview with me. As a reminder, I am inquiring about why there are so many Syrian refugees in the world, and what can be done to improve their situation. I am really passionate about this because through the news, I have acquired a better understanding about Syrian refugees, and where they are coming from. I believe that these refugees deserve a better future after all of the violence that they have experienced. Unfortunately, Through this interview, I am really hoping that you will be able to answer a few of my questions. I have not been able to find answers to my questions over the internet, since much of the information I came across does not present a clear, solid answer.

I have a few questions about you. I found your biography on the York University website, under “Centre for Refugee Studies”. I noticed that some of your interests included refugees and several other fields surrounding it, including refugee policy and resettlement. How did you become interested in this topic, and for how long have you engaged in these studies?

Below, I have included four questions about the Syrian refugees and their situation that I have been trying to seek answers to.

  1. Canada has pledged to accept more than 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February. Many of the Syrian refugees want to embark on a new journey; however, I’m wondering whether Canada is even prepared to host the refugees. I understand that there will definitely be additional costs in order for the Syrian refugees to resettle, such as food and a place to live. With these costs, how long will Canada be able to sustain their population with the allotted budget? Moreover, if Syrian refugees resettle in Canada, how will this impact the current population or people who are already living here? Will things such as job competition, a new identity, or other factors soon become an issue?
  1. Some economists believe that if Syrian refugees come to Canada, they will make a great contribution to the society and help to stimulate the economy, through an increase in workforce and productivity. However, what proof is out there that the Syrian refugees will not be a burden on Canada’s shoulders? Could the refugees actually drain or potentially weaken the economy instead? Some other facts to consider is that the Syrian refugees are indefinitely going to experience initial hurdles when they first settle in Canada. Issues that could arise include specific job qualifications or experience, language barriers, or even exclusion from the existing population. Is there a definite answer to this question, or is it too early to tell the effects?
  1. I am wondering how the media is able to influence how people view Syrian refugees, perhaps in a negative way. They seem to have the power to sway the minds of people across the entire nation. Is it because of our existing uncertainty towards Syrian refugees, or another reason altogether? After Germany was so generous and accepted so many refugees, ISIS rose up and there were accounts of attacks that had happened. This was also the case in Paris; one of the terrorists was found with a Syrian passport. Could situations such as these potentially jeopardize the futures of Syrian refugees?
  1. My fourth question is a matter of your opinion. Do you feel that accepting Syrian refugees should be considered as a “global responsibility”? Many of the European Union (E.U) countries have had past experiences with these types of refugee crises; however, I question whether they are applying this knowledge to today’s Syrian refugee crisis. Have their views shifted over time? If so, why?

Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Adelman. I appreciate your time to participate in my interview and to answer my questions. I hope you respond soon!

Sincerely,

Martin

 

MY RESPONSE

Martin;

  1. About myself and my interest in refugee studies:

I first became involved with refugees sixty years ago when I was in charge of the student co-operative residences at the University of Toronto and helped organize the use of those residences for the initial housing of Hungarian refugees when they came to Toronto, Canada. But my intellectual interest only took off twenty-three years later when, in 1979, I began Operation Lifeline, the organization to encourage the private sponsorship of Indochinese refugees. After the initial flurry or organization, in 1980 I helped found the journal, Refuge, and set up at York University the Refugee Studies Project to collect literature and encourage research and scholarship initially on the Indochinese refugees and subsequently on all refugee populations.

On Syrian Refugees:

  1. What policies and practices are in place in Canada to host Syrian refugees?

The answer is threefold:

  1. We have a Department of Immigration which has had a long policy and years of practice in the resettlement of refugees, but which had grown rusty with relative disuse in resettling large numbers over very recent years. But the institutional memory remained and Canada had a sixty-year history of gearing up rapidly to ensure the resettlement of large numbers of refugees.
  2. For years, churches and organizations, like the Jewish Immigration Service (JIS), have been involved in partnering with the government in helping resettle refugees. In the Immigration Act that came into effect in 1978, provision was made to allow those private organizations and religious institutions, as well as any group of five or more Canadians who could prove they could support the refugees for one year, to initiate the private sponsorship of refugees. Hence Operation Lifeline and the huge outpouring of efforts to privately sponsor refugees led initially by the Liberal government and then, after June 1979, by the Tory government of Joe Clark.
  3. Since, and in good part as a result of the resettlement of large numbers of Indochinese refugees beginning in 1979, Canada has set up a system of privately-organized and publicly funded resettlement agencies in major centres across the country to help facilitate the resettlement of refugees.

So the main issue is institutional, not funding. Within the overall Canadian budget, the cost of resettling refugees is relatively small. Further, though in the Syrian refugee resettlement program it may end up costing $400 million, those funds could be considered as a long-term capital investment in human resources rather than simply an expenditure allocated to the budget in a single year since those refugees, once resettled, more than pay back the costs of resettlement in increased tax revenues for the government years after the refugees are resettled. Canada has a population base 50% larger than in 1979 and can easily afford to take in 50,000 Syrian refugees per year.

As for the impact on Canadians already here, any addition to the work force, whether from Canadians born here and entering the work force, from immigrants and refugees who arrive here as children and teenagers or from mature adult refugees and immigrants entering the labour market, increases the competition for jobs, but, at the same time, increases the demand for jobs, and, for immigrants and refugees who are compelled to spend a much higher percentage of their income on resettlement and immigration, a higher percentage of their income is spent on locally-produced goods and services.

As for identity and cultural and social conflicts, these always exist in all societies, but the major source of problems by far always come mainly from the existing population and, thankfully in Canada, the percentage of the population resisting the intake of foreigners has become a minority. Enlightened political and social policies are important in reducing that minority further. The issue of cultural and racial clashes has been enormously reduced in Canada since 1979.

  1. Costs versus Benefits of Resettling Refugees

As Canada has developed a more sophisticated economy far more dependent on the development of high skill levels as the economy became more diverse and more globalized, the payback in initial investment has taken longer, but there is still a significant payback, and certainly from the next generation born from and raised by those immigrants and refugees, who, in general, are raised with a built-in pressure for success. As for proof, you will have to do your research on the studies by economists in Canada. The overwhelming evidence is that over the long term, refugees, as well as immigrants, are a net benefit to the Canadian economy in spite of initial hurdles when they first settle in Canada over specific job qualifications or experience, language barriers, or even exclusion by the existing population, the latter, as I stated above, having become greatly diminished over the years.

  1. The Role of the Media

There is a definite correlation between the support by the media and the response of Canadians. The Canadian media in general have demonstrated a long history of support for the intake and resettlement of refugees that has been crucial to the outstanding Canadian success story in resettling refugees. Further, in every refugee movement, or almost everyone – the Bahá’is may be one exception – there have always been some “bad apples”. The Syrian refugee movement has been branded as a potential terrorist threat from a very small minority who infiltrate the refugee movement. That danger is infinitely small in Canada given our process of selection. The real danger comes from homegrown terrorists who emerge generally but no exclusively from among second generation refugees who are marginalized. Canada has overwhelmingly escaped that problem because of our history, our practices and our institutionalization of successful integration, not to be confused with assimilation.

By the way, there is absolutely no evidence of a causal connection between Germany’s generosity towards Syrian refugees and the rise of ISIS. But certainly when those who carry Syrian passports commit atrocities, this brings about bad public relations for the intake and resettlement of refugees. Hopefully, enlightened minds and deep institutional practices will surmount that perceived threat as they did when a group arose objecting to the intake of Indochinese refugees, not only on racist grounds, but over alleged fears that foreign governments and bodies would use the Indochinese refugee resettlement to infiltrate Canada with Communist spies. That proved to be wholly false in the case of the Indochinese, but in the case of my own community of Jewish immigrants and refugees years earlier, a very few, usually second generation, turned out to develop as communist spies, but the numbers were so tiny and the proportion making such a huge contribution to Canada so extremely large, that the risk proved to be very heavily weighted towards taking the very small risk.

  1. The Global Responsibility to Refugees

Yes, accepting refugees is a global responsibility, but just because most countries do not take on that responsibility does not mean that the countries that do should not. When I was much younger, only a small minority of states defended democracy and the cause of universal human rights, but those numbers have increased since. This too has happened with the acceptance of helping refugees as a global responsibility. In 1979 at the time of the Indochinese refugee movement, there were only ten countries that accepted a responsibility to help the proximate countries deal with the huge burden of refugees. That number has increased enormously since, but still constitutes only a minority of even developed nations and there remain in Europe and elsewhere states, or, more accurately, governments that refuse to accept he principle of burden sharing. Further, it must be remembered that it is the adjoining states – Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey in the case of Syrian refugees – that have the overwhelming and primary burden of the Syrian refugees. For example, the number of Syrian refugees in Jordan constitute 15-18% of its population. That is equivalent to Canada, a very much richer country, taking in over 5 million refugees instead of 500,000 or 10% of that number or the 50,000 we will likely take in by the end of this year, that is 1% of that number Jordan has taken in.

Hope this helps.

Howard

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

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