Across Canada, ordinary citizens who are distressed by news reports of drowning children and the shunning of desperate migrants are intervening in one of the world’s most pressing problems, says The New York Times.
Their country allows them a “rare power and responsibility,” says the Times: They can band together in small groups and personally resettle — essentially adopt — a refugee family.
Canada’s action comes as much of the world is reacting to the refugee crisis — 21 million displaced from their countries, nearly five million of them Syrian — with hesitation or hostility. Greece shipped desperate migrants back to Turkey; Denmark confiscated their valuables; and even Germany, which has accepted more than half a million refugees, is struggling with increasing resistance to them. Broader anxiety about immigration and borders helped motivate Britain to take the extraordinary step last week of voting to leave the European Union.
In the United States, even before the Orlando massacre ignited new dread about “lone wolf” terrorism, a majority of American governors said they wanted to block Syrian refugees because some could be dangerous. Donald Trump has called for temporary bans on all Muslims from entering the country and recently warned that Syrian refugees would cause “big problems in the future.” The Obama administration promised to take in 10,000 Syrians by Sept. 30 but so far has admitted about half that many.
But across the border, the Canadian government can barely keep up with the demand to welcome them. Many volunteers felt called to action by the photo of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose body washed up last fall on a Turkish beach. He had only a slight connection to Canada — his aunt lived near Vancouver — but his death caused recrimination so strong it helped to elect idealistic, refugee-friendly Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The Toronto Star greeted the first planeload by writing “Welcome to Canada” in English and Arabic across its front page.
“The fear is that all of this effort could end badly, with the Canadians looking naïve in more ways than one,” says the Times.
Of course. This issue is complex. Cultural collisions between the refugees and their sponsors are inevitable, among other things.
But I want to take a moment to appreciate what one refugee says about his experience in Canada:
“A human life has value here. You can feel it everywhere.”