Over the past month the plight of refugees has been gaining attention in mainstream and social media. When the bodies of the Kurdi family were found on Turkish shores as they tried to reach Greece by boat, it seemed the tragedy and injustice faced by the 60 million global refugees finally had faces and stories beyond just statistics – albeit too late for Alan, Ghalib and their mother Rehanna Kurdi, as well as the countless others we have lost. Many listened when Abdullah Kurdi, the grieving father of little Alan and Ghalib, called for the death of his beautiful family to be a wake up call to the world. I hope we do justice to his call to action, for his family and for the millions of lives that have perished on dangerous journeys towards safety.
There has been an overwhelming response from the public. Over 50 groups across the country have continuously organized and shown up to panels, workshops, rallies and demonstrations under the banner of #RefugeesWelcome throughout September. This movement is inspiring and hopeful, proving that people’s hearts are bigger than any politician’s lies during election time. The most important part of this movement has been the conversation that aims to uncover the truth about Canada’s policies against refugees and digging down to the core of our responsibility to stand up in solidarity with one another.
There is more awareness now that the Canadian government is culpable in what is being called the largest refugee crisis that the world has witnessed since WWII. When looking for causes and solutions to the refugee crisis, a good place to start is to separate myths from reality. First by breaking down the illusion of “Canadian generosity” and Canada’s diplomatic and military role as passive. It is important to expose the lies that scapegoat the most vulnerable people. Crimes causing global displacement are committed by powerful nations with military and economic interest in gaining control over land and resources.
The hard truth is that Canada displaces people from their homes, both locally and globally, and then proceeds to exclude them from Canadian society. At home, Canada continues the oppression of Indigenous people, migrants and refugees. The theft of Indigenous lands and the disenfranchisement of Indigenous people, laws that force migrants into indentured labour, and the criminalization and jailing of refugees are not passages from history but a continuation of a legacy that is still happening today.
Canada’s involvement in imperial wars abroad is creating the displacement of people in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Canadian air strikes wipe out homes, life sustaining land and infrastructure. Canadian mining corporations cause displacement through resource extraction ventures that destroy lands and terrorize people, from urban centers to the heart of the forests, from Eritrea to Mexico. These mass displacements are squarely rooted in capitalist and colonial projects that effect people’s ability to have safe homes and forces them to seek safety elsewhere.
For the very few refugees who do reach our shores, Canada’s “generosity” is non-existent. Upon reaching our shores many refugees, including children, are jailed without regard for the violence they may have endured or the trauma of being forced to leave their homes. Canadian officials regularly and aggressively hate-monger against people who try to seek safety in Canada, characterizing refugees as terrorists and security risks in national media.
Of course, none of this would be possible if it weren’t for the most damaging lies: that resources are scarce and that some people are more deserving of life and safety than others. These lies make up the foundation of our unjust society and separate us from each other. We must challenge these lies and point to the billions of dollars that are spent destroying the homes and lives of our fellow human beings through arms trades and military operations that could be better invested in strengthening social infrastructure, and services that help our communities thrive. When we challenge and fight these basic beliefs we begin on a path of transforming society into one where people are safe from violence and displacement.
Sozan Saevhilaghi is a former refugee and a member of No One Is Illegal – Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories.