The image of 3-year old Aylan Kurdi’s body being carried on a Turkish shore has jolted people all over the world about the Syrian refugee crisis.
Over at Commentary, Noah Rothman writes scathingly about the response of Western governments to the crisis:
A Syrian boy, maybe two or three-years-old lay motionless in the surf. He had only ever known war; a horrible war characterized by intense violence, the use of chemical weapons, the Islamic State and al-Nusra, Bashar al-Assad’s thugs, and the various international actors who give these barbarians succor. He was, perhaps for the first time in his short and cruel life, at peace. Of all the appalling images to emerge from the Syrian conflict, this might have been the most soul crushing. Yet we dare not look away. We must not. Western democracies had their chance to prevent his suffering, and they failed that Syrian boy. Though it has now been mercifully cut short, we own a portion of his lifetime of pain. We did not compel the boy’s parents to make this final, ill-fated journey, but we have declined every opportunity to improve the conditions that led to his flight from war. It is well past time to look upon the face of our callousness and venality. It is the face of that child.
It appears that the Western democracy which had a chance to prevent Aylan Kurdi’s suffering is Canada. Kurdi’s family evidently sought refugee status in Canada, but were denied. The Kurdis have relatives in Vancouver who sponsored their application. Evidently they were denied in part because the UN did not recognize them as refugees and the Turkish government denied the family exit visas. All of these factors compelled the Kurdi family to turn to smugglers.
While there is plenty of blame to go around, it is Canada that is in the midst of an election and Kurdi’s death is now front and center in the campaign. The opposition NDP and Liberals are wasting no time in going after the Conservative government of Stephen Harper for not accepting the Kurdi family’s application. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair pledged to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees “immediately” while Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau said he would “immediately” accept 25,000. Meanwhile, the Conservatives are in damage control mode, with Harper and several Tory cabinet minister canceling campaign appearances in the midst of this crisis.
Back in January, the Harper government pledged to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees over 3 years and thus far have resettled 2,300. Given the circumstances, I would anticipate the Harper government might very well announce an increase in the number of Syrian refugees they will accept, accelerate the rate at which they are accepted or do a combination of both.
For some such an announcement will be considered too little, too late, and come across as cynical electioneering. But aren’t Mulcair and Trudeau engaging in cynical electioneering? It’s easy for Mulcair and Trudeau to say that they will accept 10,000 and 25,000 Syrian refugees “immediately” when they have the luxury of not having to be responsible for implementing such a policy. Are Mulcair and Trudeau prepared to say they will accept Syrians not recognized by the UN as refugees? The devil, as always, is in the details. Should either the NDP or the Liberals be elected next month it would not come as a surprise if their definition of “immediately” rapidly changes where it concerns accepting Syrian refugees into Canada.
UPDATE: The Canadian government states it did not reject a refugee application for Aylan Kurdi’s father, Abdullah, because they did not receive one from his sister Tima Kurdi. She did apply on behalf on another brother, but it was returned as incomplete as it did not offer proof of refugee status. This might be where the UN not recognizing the family as refugees might come into the picture.
For his part, Prime Minister Harper said, “We have plans to do more, but I would say repeatedly that as we are doing more, we can’t lose sight of the fact that refugee resettlement alone cannot, in any part of the world, solve this problem.” He added that ISIS is at the root of this problem.