For the past several years, millions of people have fled Syria, survivors of the barrel bombs and other vicious assaults by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces and by the many independent rebel warlords in that country’s civil war. Until recently, there had been a few references from time to time to the situation in the western press. The United Nations called for funding. The western response was feeble. There was no response from wealthy Arab states.
These wanderers are far from homogenous. In addition to Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims and Alawis, they include Druze, Kurds and members of several different Christian sects. Over time, they have been joined by Yazidis and other ethnic groups escaping from barbarous fundamentalists such as the Islamic State (ISIS), Al Qaeda and Al Nusra. Many of them were unable to seek refuge in camps set up in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, because they were persecuted minorities, fearful of the reaction of the camps’ inhabitants. (One has to be thankful that no Jews were left in Syria to suffer a worse fate.)
Suddenly, within the last few weeks, faced with the image of a lone child washed up on a beach or moved by pictures of dispossessed masses clamouring at barbed-wire fences in Hungary, Serbia and Croatia, the West’s conscience has awakened.
In Canada, the urge to be hosts to “Syrian refugees” is now not only acceptable, but, to many, an imperative. Among these activated groups are synagogues and rabbis who have joined in the chorus to raise funds for, and to sponsor the resettlement of, “Syrian refugees” here. Several have, amazingly and quite inappropriately, likened the current situation to that of the Shoah, when so many countries – including Canada – shunned our hapless people.
In their plea for funds and sponsorship, little attention has been paid to who these “Syrian refugees” include, or to distinguishing the true refugees from those who are part of the infiltration into the masses by members of ISIS, Syria’s secret police, Assad’s army, or their thousands of willing co-operators. No concern is being shown for their inevitable demand that the host countries adopt sharia law. Nobody is asking why recent news clips show primarily able-bodied and healthy-looking young men and few women, elderly or infirm people.
In a recent meeting, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) wisely proposed to the king of Jordan that attempts be made in Canada to provide aid and funding to assist in looking after true refugees from Syria in his country, rather than support their wholesale acceptance in Canada or elsewhere.
Recklessly rushing to avoid a misplaced sense of guilt – a familiar Jewish trait – that we will be accused of doing what was done to refugees from the Shoah, as well as not seeking the facts or being oblivious to them, is plainly wrong.
Relief and haven should be tendered to those who are truly refugees. A home should be provided and sponsorship offered to those who will not be intent on influencing their host countries into adopting sharia law, to those who are not “plants” by vicious fundamentalists intent on founding a new caliphate here, and to those who do not have blood of the innocents on their hands.
Let’s first welcome Yazidis, Christians, Druze, Kurds and those other persecuted minorities who can clearly demonstrate their innocence and their intention to live harmoniously with their Canadian neighbours-to-be.
Donald Carr is chairman emeritus of the Canadian Jewish News; a past president of the United Jewish Welfare Fund in Toronto, the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto and other communal organizations; and a practising lawyer in Toronto.