The government of Canada has announced the start of the process for temporarily resettlement of some of the most vulnerable refugees in the world. They include some of the Rohingya refugees who have faced decades of persecution in Myanmar and journalists in Nigeria fleeing the violence in their country.
The Canadian government’s announcement, making them one of the first countries in the world to admit the refugees, is testament to the moral leadership that Canada represents in the world and has set an excellent example for others to follow. The timing of the announcement, coming in the midst of the political turmoil caused by the UK’s departure from the European Union, is now seen as political opportunism by the Tory government and some Tory MPs, being that Canada and Germany were already showing exemplary leadership and efforts by agreeing to bring refugees from war zones to Europe.
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The British government’s failure to fulfil its moral and legal responsibilities by taking adequate measures to protect refugees and legal settlement for the record numbers of migrants arriving in the country is something no one should downplay or forgive. But it is important to not confuse these two issues.
The international response to the Libyan crisis must be described as tragically inadequate, especially after the ruthless bombing campaign against Libya by the US, UK and France. An unlikely collection of voices condemned the strikes and stated that the refugee crisis was not primarily a political issue but one of humanitarian concern, with no mention of the suffering of the already vulnerable people in the country, nor of the situation of the refugees trying to reach Europe and the north African countries.
The US, UK and France wanted Libya’s people, especially the Sahel regions, to contribute to a transatlantic alliance to overthrow Moamar Gaddafi. Now the US faces the PR nightmare of not being able to fulfil its commitment to take a single Syrian refugee. It has admitted 57 from Lebanon, where the number of Syrian refugees has risen to 1.1 million over a little over a year. If President Trump had managed to resettle the same number in a single year, the US could now be regarded as a great humanitarian champion.
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Meanwhile, the UK’s response to the refugee crisis has been inadequate, but because it has only assisted around 31,000 refugees in its region of the Mediterranean, only a small number of those in the UK have been forced to leave the UK on one of the more, if not the only, available boats. The non-EU EU member countries have not come together to coordinate their efforts to make sure there are no unsympathetic minds to head to Europe. We urgently need to increase humanitarian aid for Syria, Yemen and other countries in this desperate situation.
Britain has the self-discipline and courage to stand shoulder to shoulder with Canada in taking the lead in providing resettlement places. If the UK has taken a leading role in the international community, Canada has ensured that the UNHCR, which has been the agency that’s been most instrumental in making sure the migrant crisis does not degenerate into uncontrolled ethnic cleansing, has something tangible to deliver to this global crisis. The decision by the British government to go to the party with Canada in helping the most vulnerable people in the world, ensuring that their money is well spent and that they also help us to look after those who have to face armed conflict and weeping communities, is a good thing.
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