“Harper’s Canada has more than one refugee death on its hands” (The Guardian)

A relative embraces the body of Abdullah Kurdi’s three-year-old son Aylan being buried with his wife and other son, Galip, 5, in their hometown of Kobani, Syria. The family had been trying to get refugee status in Canada, before perishing in the ocean. (Photograph: AP)

 (The Guardian):

Undeserving people exploiting the generosity of a benevolent government. Cheating an application process. Taking advantage of welfare. Stealing our jobs. That is the image of “bogus refugees” that Canada’s Conservative government has spent years carefully cultivating. But a single photo of a drowned child has shattered all the stories meant to harden Canadians. 3-year old Alan Kurdi’s fate off Turkey’s shore has seared the reality of a refugee crisis into our consciousness and left Canadians stunned about our complicity in the death of a child.

Those now putting Canada’s refugee policies under scrutiny will realize that this much else is clear: the Harper government has more than one refugee’s death on its hands. It is not simply that Alan Kurdi’s family’s attempt to reach Canada was dismissed by the government. Nor that Canada’s Immigration Minister ignored a hand-delivered plea. Under the Harper government’s overhaul of the immigration and refugee system, those fleeing war, poverty or persecution arrive not to a haven but a hazard. Never has this country been more unkind and unwelcoming.

Refugees that reach Canada discover it resembles more a fortress than a liberal country. The government throws into detention any “irregular arrivals” – as desperate people are bound to be. A shocking 10,000 people every year – including hundreds of children – wallow in detention facilities that go by disturbing names like Montreal’s “Immigration Prevention Centre,” surrounded by razor-wire fences, on the outskirts of major cities. Others are thrown into provincial prisons, including maximum-security: that makes Canada the only western country that jails refugees and migrants in the same place as convicts.

For now, a tragic and iconic image has pierced a political discourse that has demeaned and disparaged refugees and their plight for too long. It has thrown Conservatives policies, in the midst of an election, into a new light. Already the government is in damage control, suspending the campaign of its Immigration Minister. It cancelled an event yesterday where they were meant to announce more immigration security measures. Their fear? That such punitive campaigning will no longer wash.

More security – more detentions and deportations, and fences and walls – is not what is needed. Canadians shocked that our government was complicit in the drowning of child refugees – and those who always knew it went far beyond that – are now raising their voice. Actions calling on the Canadian government to receive more Syrians are being organized over the next week across the country. They can take inspiration from residents in Germany – whose protests have forced their government to allow 800,000 refugees into the country. Or Iceland, where 10,000 people have offered to open their homes.

“Refugees are welcome” should be the first slogan broadcast. Open the door immediately to tens of thousands of refugees from Syria and elsewhere. But that will not suffice. Now is the moment to debate an overhaul to the system to reverse the damage the Conservatives have done. And that cannot begin without a reckoning of our own hand in the crisis. Canada’s fortress-style border policies at home and its wars abroad have never been a help, but a lethal contribution.

Full column here