In a Canadian government website entitled “The refugee system in Canada,” the opening sentence states: “Our compassion and fairness are a source of great pride for Canadians ...A refugee is different from an immigrant, in that an immigrant is a person who chooses to settle permanently in another country. Refugees are forced to flee.”
On November 29, Canada opened a refugee-processing centre in Amman, Jordan. The Centre’s goal is to process 500 Syrian refugees a day so that they can leave the refugee camp. On November 29 there were three federal Canadian cabinet ministers on hand to see how the newly opened centre was working. They were representatives of the government that intends to facilitate the resettlement of large numbers of the estimated four million Syrians who have been declared refugees from that country’s war.
The Canadian government plans to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada by the end of February 2016 of which 10,000 will be resettled by the end of this year. The remaining 15,000 should be resettled by the end of February 2016. Since the beginning of November, 153 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada and another 928 have received visas that enable them to travel there.
Across the border things are a bit different. No one in the United States is talking about resettling 25,000 refugees in the next three months. President Obama speaks hopefully of settling 10,000 by the end of 2016. That is less than one-half of what Canada proposes to do in considerably less time. And it seems increasingly unlikely that the president will come anywhere close to his goal. Compassion is no longer a word in the American vocabulary.
Thirty-one governors have said that Syrian refugees are not welcome in their states. They have used different language to express their opposition to admitting them. Alabama governor, Robert Bentley, for example, said: “After full consideration of this weekend’s attacks of terror on innocent citizens in Paris, I will oppose any attempt to relocate Syrian refugees to Alabama through the US Refugee Admissions Programme. As your governor, I will not stand complicit to a policy that places the citizens of Alabama in harm’s way.”
Shortly after he was sworn in as governor in 2013, Governor Bentley signed a bill expanding the rights of citizens of his state to carry weapons. On December 1, 2015, two shooting deaths occurred in Birmingham, Alabama that brought the total number of shooting deaths in that city to 81 for the year, the first time since 2008 that Birmingham could claim more than 80 shooting deaths in one year.
The governors opposing the admission of refugees are inspired in their opposition by the Paris attack of two weeks ago that killed 130 people. They have forgotten what life is like in the United States without the terrorists even being admitted. As of December 1 there have been 12,127 gun deaths in the United States, 24,450 gun-related injuries, 640 children killed and 308 mass shootings. All occurred without the assistance of one Syrian refugee. None of the 12,127 gun-related deaths were the result of terrorist attacks. The mass shooting that took place on December 2 that left 13 people dead and 17 wounded was by local murderers rather than Syrian refugees.
It is not only the elected governors who fear the effects of a Syrian refugee inflow into the United States. The would-be presidents in the Republican Party have equally strong feelings. Donald Trump says if elected he would deport any Syrians who had been admitted prior to his taking office. Ted Cruz says bringing Syrians into the US is “absolute lunacy”. Chris Christie says not even orphans under the age of five should be admitted. Rand Paul plans to suspend visas for all people coming from countries with “significant jihadist movements”..
Whether France would be considered such a country given recent events there is probably an open question.
Compassion is a ten-letter word. It has no place in the vocabularies of more than one-half of the United States governors and all the presidential wanna-bes among the Republicans. This country was founded by immigrants. Go figure.
This article originally appeared as: ‘Compassion... some got it, some don’t’.