During the election campaign Justin Trudeau persuaded Canadians that taking in 25,000 Syrians refugees by Christmas was a good idea. He pledged to do so, everything else being equal. We all know conditions have drastically changed.
Infiltration of Western cities by suicide bombers disguised as refugees is emerging as the biggest fear in the West. It’s worth noting many U.S. Republican governors are loathe to see Syrian refugees in their states. Republican candidates openly advocate the acceptance of only Christian Syrians, or none at all.
Consider the fact the U.S. has accepted about 2,000 Syrian refugees in the last four years; that it takes up to two years to pass their screening process; and in the end most are screened out. According to FBI Director James Comey, in the absence of relevant databases it is virtually impossible to screen Syrian refugees. In the meantime, President Obama is surely arm-twisting and charming Europeans to take in more, and likely congratulating our Prime Minister for his “generous offer”. Angela Merkel, so loved by European leaders and Syrian refugees for her generosity, has her fingers crossed permanently. Ironically, Turkey today holds 2.5 million Syrian refugees and remains on a travel advisory by the U.S. Government.
A true test of Prime Minister Trudeau’s mettle will be his capacity to influence the U.S. Surely our neighbour with its oversized brawn and resources should be a more significant part of the solution? Perhaps a joint expedited refugee screening process can be worked out. The Americans might learn something about compassion for all, Christians and non-Christians alike. And Canadians might learn a thing or two about security procedures. That would not only speed up our intake of refugees, but significantly reduce the risk of making a catastrophic mistake.
The Prime Minister’s ability to team-up with European leaders to draft a comprehensive NATO plan for managing the refugee crisis is also important. NATO’s considerable resources and expertise should be deployed in times of peace as well, to actually solve real human problems. NATO has a historic opportunity to position itself as not just a war machine, but a peacekeeper.
Barring the last nine years, Canada and Canadians have always been associated with peacekeeping. Benefiting from this legacy and his current rock-star status, Mr. Trudeau can play a leadership role in recrafting the mission of G20 to include social collaboration both at strategic and tactical levels. Morphing this elite economic club into a real problem solver will bring about a significant difference in the lives of millions of Syrian refugees, and potentially more to follow from other trouble spots.
Mr. Trudeau did not pledge to bring 25,000 Syrians by Christmas under any circumstance or at any cost. Most Canadians will not blame him for slowing down just a bit, until all pieces of the puzzle fall in place. It is not only a question of screening, but also a matter of handling logistical details here at home in the middle of our dreaded winter. Spring of 2016 is better for all concerned. In the meantime, providing adequate food, shelter, clothing and healthcare to refugees in European camps should be our top priority.
A good act for Christmas? Bring in 1,000 Syrian orphans from refugee camps. They will be quickly adopted by thankful families in Canada – no screening required.
(Editor’s note: the author is a faculty member at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management)