By Tannuva Akbar, Graduate of Munk School of Global Affairs
The longstanding Syrian refugee crisis and the security dilemma attached to it that has been highly topical in recent times. Canada’s role in accepting more refugees has made several headlines and was a primary concern in the recent 42nd Canadian federal election. Parties accused each other of being divisive or naive depending on where they stood on accepting Syrian refugees. Politicians, academics, journalists or military expertise aside, I want to focus on the public opinion on this very issue. I have watched many public poll videos and read many comments from the general public on social media regarding this crisis and most people are in favor of accepting large number of refugees. However, I was overwhelmed by some opinions that were filled with concerns that accepting these refugees will compromise the safety and security of Canadians. Therefore, I intend to discuss that very element in this piece and hopefully uncover some of the myths that may have led some people to be worried about the refugee influx into Canada.
I want to focus on the history of how immigrants and refugees have helped different countries including Canada. If we look at the migrant crisis in Europe right now, we can see Germany has been very generous in terms of accepting Syrian refugees- Although accepting refugees creates an economic burden for them, in the long run these refugees are instrumental in shaping the demographic crisis that Germany is facing right now. Other countries such as Britain, Hungary, and France are concerned with other reasons for why they don’t want take more refugees. But we are not any other European country, we are Canada. We have a proud history of accepting refugees and we are known for being more tolerant and diverse.
Let me describe how refugee influx is not a burden. To begin, refugees create job competition. A recent Washington Post article points to the research conducted by Giovanni Peri of the University of California, Davis, and Mette Foged of the University of Copenhagen. According to Peri and Foged, integrating lower-wage immigrants “tends to raise wages for everyone else”. As such, “low-skilled foreign workers and low-skilled domestic workers often complement each other instead of displacing each other”. Going further, if we do a basic fact check, we can see that between 1979 and 1981, Canada accepted 60,000 people from Southeast Asia, who were known as the ‘boat people’. A recent article on Canadian Business notes, “within a decade, 86% of those former refugees were working, healthy and spoke English with some proficiency, achieving the basic criteria for success set out by academic Morton Beiser in his landmark study of their integration into Canadian society. They were less likely to use social services and more likely to have jobs than the average Canadian. One in five was self-employed. They weren’t a drain on the taxpayer—”they were taxpayers”. I support such statistics because, although there is a difference between a refugee or a migrant, once given the chance to properly integrate, all refugees will become an asset for any society. They try harder to succeed and gain upward socioeconomic mobility, because they have a lot to lose if they don’t and the alternatives are worse back home.
Finally, another article published by the Globe and Mail advocates that refugees will give back to the countries in so many ways. According to the authors, “many Ismaili Muslims had found refuge in Canada after expulsion from Africa less than 10 years earlier, and they were already paying it forward. Beyond charity, we can predict that Syrians will give back in the ways we all do: as engaged citizens, engineers, health-care providers, scholars, community leaders and more.” Subsequently, Naheed Nenshi, the current the mayor of Calgary wrote a similar article on Globe and Mail describing his own experience of growing up in Canada and how hundreds of Ismaili families, who were refugees from Uganda worked very hard to settle in Canada to become a valuable citizen of the society.
The opposing argument assumes that refugees – most of whom are women and children – will pose a security threat. We are talking about an entire generation who were born and grew up in a war zone and are now trying to flee to save their lives. Without our assistance, many of these children might face the fate of death, like Alan Kurdi. Alternatively, many of them will live a nomadic life until they make it to a safe border. Finally, some will become desperate and join a terrorist organization. It isn’t new that ISIS is recruiting young children from the refugee camps. Are we really saving ourselves by isolating these people or creating more threats? Ultimately, instead of focusing on potential security threats, a focus on the benefits of refugee influx and migration is warranted, such as the diverse pool of talents that people from other parts of the world can bring to Canada.