A letter to a Syrian Refugee

Dear Syrian New Canadian,
Welcome to Canada! I’m sorry I was not at the airport, along with our photogenic Prime Minister, to welcome you to our cold country where the hearts are warm and the feelings are mushy. Actually I was feeling a bit jealous, for when I came to this country nearly 30 years ago from a similarly war-torn one like yours, with a wife and two small children (one sick and the other post-operative), there was no one to welcome us; we just checked into an apartment and started life, funded only by our savings. Oh yes, the diffident immigration officer did say “Welcome to Canada,” after stamping our passports and accepting us as landed immigrants.

Let me re-assure you that you have made a good choice in coming to Canada. But instead of the warm and fuzzies, let me give you a few do’s and don’ts that you need to be aware of here, facts that the immigration brochures do not reveal, as we are, for the most part, a polite nation.

1) Get yourself a job as soon as you can. Any job! Canadian Experience gets you into progressively better jobs faster than all the credentials you can bring from your home country. Besides, the longer you stay unemployed the higher the risk-hire you become. And don’t quit a job before getting the next one. We love to hire currently-employed people because someone else has already done the filtering and taken the risk on you. And when you get a job, work hard at it. Luck is the product of hard work.
2) Unless you wish to reside in Quebec, learn “Canadian English” as soon as you can, replete with “eh”s and “duh”s and other expressions. And when you are stuck for words, throw in stuff like “basically,” “that’s a good question,” “as a matter of fact,” etc – these are acceptable fillers.
3) Do pay your taxes and obey the law. The law here is what makes this country different from where we came from; it’s terribly slow once you get into its clutches, and outcomes are based on compromise not justice. That’s why when two Canadians bump into each other they both say “sorry” and go their way without getting into a punch up or a shoot-out. And don’t try to change this law with imported ones either. We like it methodical and labyrinthine. Just don’t get tangled up with the law and you’ll be fine.
4) Do learn to accommodate your neighbour. That’s how this place works. I don’t know my next door neighbour nor subscribe to his peculiar habits and customs. But I respect his space and he gives me mine and I offer to look after his place when he is away on holidays, and he does the same for me.

1) Don’t try to live on subsidy for longer than you can. We have welfare and medicare and EI and other props. These are very addictive and are only for those genuinely in need.
2) Try to become a net producer rather than a net consumer. We love shopping and buying things we don’t need that only put us in debt, especially after Christmas. This is an Achilles Heel that will ultimately be our undoing. Don’t fall for this trap of living today based on tomorrow’s potential earnings.
3) While you are free to indulge in your customs and rituals that give you your identity, don’t impose them on others. And, like me, you might want to sample, even adopt, some of the customs that make us Canadian: we play Christmas songs from November to December, we go crazy during Hockey season, we unite around a National Anthem that brings a clutch to my throat every time I sing it, we like to criticize our politicians without shooting them, we drink a lot of coffee, flush a lot of toilets and eat doughnuts even if it’s not good for us. Please don’t try to change these customs, because if I don’t hear my Christmas songs on the radio and in public places anymore, I’m going to be pretty pissed off!
4) Make sure your kids get an education, integrate and become Canadian. This “multi-cultural” business is good only to get newcomers through the door. But after a few years here we all have to find some commonality that hangs us all together as Canadians.

This may be a bit much to absorb all at once. Sorry. Besides, you need to bask in the celebrity status with which you have been welcomed into this country; many who came before you have not had this privilege. And you have earned it, after your treacherous voyage from your war-torn homeland. So relax and let it soak in during this Christmas season. But remember, that in these Attention Deficit times, the show will be over very soon, the audience would have moved on to the next big thing and you will be left on the stage, alone, wondering what happened. That’s when I hope you will read and re-read my do’s and don’ts and find them helpful. They are offered from the heart and not from the handbook.

Canada is a land of milk and honey, but only if you bring (or grow) your own cows and bees. Since you have come to this country with nothing more than yourselves and a few belongings, I suggest you cut through the hoopla ASAP (another acronym we use excessively) and get down to seriously growing your personal treasure chest. And with hard work, you will. All the best!

A Fellow New Canadian

P.S. – It might interest you to know that, by definition, you will remain a New Canadian for the rest of your life – another quirk of this place! Enjoy!

I guess we need to talk about the refugees at some point

With Europe being flooded by refugees, and other wealthy countries like the US and Canada hemming and hawing about whether they should take in the displaced ones, and if so, in what numbers, one wonders how this all came to pass. I have some theories and recommendations, but these are mine alone.

Once upon a time, Western Europe was geographically insulated from the hungry hordes in the Third World by the Iron Curtain countries and by a string of dictators in the Middle East and North Africa. And of course North America had the vast Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as buffers, and the US even recently built a giant wall to keep the Mexicans out. Then the Berlin Wall collapsed and the aging population of Western Europe determined that in a globalized world it needed to replenish its labour pool with younger workers from the poorer former-Communist Bloc, so a second tier of EU membership was created, and suddenly Poles were serving in restaurants and bars in England. Then chinks in the larger barrier gave way: dictators were ousted in Libya and Iraq and another was sent into a bunker in Syria. The walls began leaking big-time, transforming this easy conduit for cheap labour into an uncontrollable flood, threatening the protected way of life of the incumbents.

Switch scenes for a moment to the human smuggling industry. Once upon a time, it was called slavery but that term went out of fashion after the American Civil War. “Economic Immigrant” became the new word. And economic immigration has been happening since time immemorial. It is a human imperative of survival to seek a better environment for one’s self and one’s progeny, and it applies to both master and slave. In recent memory, we have witnessed the boat people from Vietnam, the Indian migrant ships, Sri Lankan refugees coming over the US border into Canada in the trunks of cars, and Mexicans swimming across the Rio Grande. (Globalization and outsourcing are also forms of economic migration, for the rich and for their money, lest we forget). When you see the recent flood of refugees include people from places such as Gambia and Pakistan, you know that ISIS is not the only cause for this exodus. The marginalized had always been parked outside the gates of the privileged, waiting for a chink in the fence to make a rush for it. These “rushes” are “facilitated” by clever profiteers who extract money, sell dreams and put the vulnerable in life-threatening situations. And these vile merchants of flesh, saw a great opportunity when the walls punctured in Libya, Iraq and Syria.

Let’s also not forget the arms industry. Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are export markets for military equipment, brand new or second-hand. And the Western and Middle Eastern allies pitched against rebel groups in these countries are lucrative customers too. These conflicts must continue in Big Guns’ view, despite the collateral damage.

While we can take short term measures to re-settle refugees in the west, despite the hemming and hawing, the real answers lie in six strong initiatives (IMHO):

1) Deal conclusively with barbaric throwbacks like ISIS. We did it with Hitler, why not now? To that bunch we can add all other extremists that fuel hatred. I can think of radical right-wingers and their Trump card—they should be sped onto their self-created isolationism and allowed their own tea party (or gun party), away from the rest of us, where they can pat each other on the back, draw their guns, and self-destruct.

2) Strengthen the war on human trafficking and include all nations in it. Let it not be as ineffective as the war on drugs that only focused on the perpetrators and not on the addicted.

3) Educate people in the developed and developing world in the art of tolerance and of accommodating one’s neighbour. Make them aware that the best chance of a person realizing themselves is in their homeland. And that if people still chose to go west, then teach them that being a good guest and integrating into the host country (that has attracted them with a better economic model) is a wise thing to do. And teach all this to immigrants before they leave, so that they can make an informed decision before they take the big leap.

4) Increase immigration to countries that can absorb newcomers and don’t hypocratize the act by saying that we are doing this only to be generous to refugees. We need young people. Canada’s seniors now outnumber its youth, and we have joined the geriatric club of the rest of the Western world.

5) After #1 and #2 above have been accomplished, dismantle or severely curtail the movements of the arms industry so that they do not facilitate mini wars that create future human exoduses. We did it with Big Tobacco, why not with Big Guns?

6) And face up to our collapsing climate. If not happening already, it will not only be mini-wars that create exoduses in future but droughts, floods and famines, forces that do not respect where they happen, whether in the developing or developed world.

I am sure many more fixes to our global refugee problem are required, but I’ll be content if we can eat the elephant in small bites and if we can crack the above six items for starters.

But now, where are the global politicians with the nerve to take all this on?