Canada has an admirable record when it comes to admitting refugees in times of crisis.
In 1956 and 1957, when Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary to crush a popular uprising, thousands fled the country. More than 30,000 of them had been admitted to Canada by the end of 1957.
In 1975 and a’76, and again in 1979 and ’80, refugees from Vietnam flooded out of that country; we took in more than 5,600 from the first wave and an astonishing 50,000 from the second.
Now the federal government is sticking to its guns: refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq will be limited to 20,000 in total, spread out over several years. The NDP and Liberals have both advanced plans that are considerably more expansive – 10,000 this year and 46,000 over four years for the NDP, 25,000 by the end of the year for the Liberals.
We have seen Canada absorb more people in years past, when we had a smaller population to welcome them. Despite economic setbacks, Canada today is wealthier than it was in 1956 or 1979. Our national mosaic includes communities from virtually every nation around the world – there are already Iraqi-Canadians and Syrian-Canadians here who can help the newcomers, to say nothing of the many towns, churches, families, and individuals who will willingly give a hand if the numbers are increased.
The Syrian crisis has been going on for years now. The recent photo of drowned toddler Alan Kurdi has drawn more attention to the issue than hundreds of stories about the plight of the refugees. The fact that the Kurdi family were hoping to eventually find their way to Canada to join family already here adds to our responsibility. It also highlights the fact that more than half of the refugees are children.
Canada has always been involved in the wider world. We can argue about what forms our intervention should take, but accepting more refugees should be an immediate priority, regardless of political posturing.