The past few weeks have seen a constant stream of images in all the media showing a veritable torrent of refugees attempting to cross the Balkans and get into the promised land of northern and western Europe. Most of them have been Syrians fleeing the deadly conflict that has now been raging for years and shows no sign of letting up. Between the cruel massacres that a merciless President Assad is inflicting on his own people in his bid to stay in power, and the barbaric, fanatical evil that ISIS is inflicting on fellow Muslims and anyone else that gets in their way, the poor Syrian masses have the simple choice of either staying and dying, or fleeing to a safer haven.
Ironically, most Syrians are opting for Europe where they know that European Christian charity is far more dependable and welcoming than that of their fellow Muslim countries in the Middle East. While it is a disgrace that many of the Arab countries in the Middle East have shut their doors to their fellow religious brothers and sisters, it is hardly surprising. Most of these countries have a rabid fear of getting infected by the internecine strife that is so prevalent in so many of the neighbouring states. No doubt, most of the fleeing Syrians also have no desire to exchange one despotic Arab ruler for another.
To compound the situation, many other migrants from countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Eritrea and others, are taking advantage of the crisis and the porous borders, to make their own way into Europe and a chance at something resembling a decent future. The flood of refugees, displaced people and economic migrants now numbers into the hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, and has created a very real crisis of epic proportions. The European Union is struggling under the tidal wave of migrants, and the situation has given new meaning to those famous words – “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” It has exposed the inadequacy of refugee policies and processes, not only in Europe, but also North America and most of what we call the developed free world.
The sheer magnitude of this crisis, coupled with the dramatic images that our media instantly conveys from the scene, has also regrettably, spurred many people to give into their fears and biases, and we are seeing a strong resurgence of anti-refugee and anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media and in particular, on the Internet. Distortions, propagandistic exaggerations, unwarranted accusations and outright racism are growing in leaps and bounds.
What I find particularly disturbing, is that I am starting to see many instances of such negative, stereotypical and distorted commentary from Ukrainians on the various Ukrainian groups, portals and web pages on the net. No doubt, there are risks in admitting large numbers of refugees in a short period of time when you can’t be as thorough as you would like with your security checks. But in times of crisis, one should also understand that saving lives is the first priority, and security concerns are dealt with as best as one can under the circumstances.
I would have hoped that the Ukrainian diaspora in particular would be far more understanding and sympathetic to the situation than what I am seeing. We are after all, only several generations removed from our ancestors who found themselves in similar situations – victims of war, cruel dictators, displaced from their land or living in abject poverty or serfdom. Our country of Canada was gracious enough to rescue them. We should be doing all we can to help our era’s refugees and displaced persons.
I am reminded of an article I read once about the first Ukrainian immigrants to Canada, and coming across this excerpt from The Winnipeg Telegram newspaper of August 1899 – “The unfortunate [English] settler finds himself hemmed in by a horde of people [Ukrainians] little better than savages – alien in race, language and religion, whose customs are repellent and whose morals he abhors.” That is what the so-called civilized society of that time thought of Ukrainian immigrants. Substitute Canadian or European in the above quote for English, and Syrian for Ukrainian, and you may begin to see history repeating itself.
“I am my brother’s keeper”, and there should be no distinction whether that brother is Christian or Muslim, Ukrainian or Syrian.