Sorry Mr. Huckabee, refugees are not peanuts

Following the Paris attacks, when a Syrian passport was found on or near the body of one of the attackers, the sentiment against accepting Syrian refugees into the country reached a new high both in the US and Canada. The rhetoric goes something like this: “It is possible that ISIS terrorists are among the Syrian refugees, and in the interest of national security, we must not allow them to enter our country, at least until it can be proven that they do not have ties to ISIS.” Even though there has not been any evidence conclusively supporting the idea that ISIS is using the refugee crisis as a way of entering different countries, the argument says “Since it IS possible, we must choose to be safe rather than sorry, no matter how low the risk may be.”

Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas and current Republican presidential hopeful said in an interview on Tuesday with MSNBC: “If you bought a 5 lb. bag of peanuts and you knew that in the 5 lb. bag of peanuts there were about 10 peanuts that were deadly poisonous, would you feed them to your kids? The answer is no”

I am sorry, Mr. Huckabee. With all due respect, refugees are people, not peanuts.

What is shocking to me is that while they may not use the same words, many Christians share the same anti-refugee sentiment: There is a chance that some may be “terrorists”, so Syrian refugees pose a threat to our country, our security and our way of life.

Such a position presupposes one thing: That somehow we have a God-given right to the life of privilege we live in North America, and we deserve it more than the refugees. So we must not allow “them” to threaten “our” way of life.

Even though more than 250,000 Syrians have died since 2011. And more are dying. Every day.

Even though 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the civil war started.

Even though the United Nations have identified the Syrians as the world’s largest refugee population.

Even though every day we hear and see heart breaking stories and images of children losing their parents, families being torn apart, people drowning while escaping, thousands dying along the way.

Yet, we say, “we must not risk having them threaten our way of life.”

What is even more unbelievable to me is that many who hold this position were once immigrants themselves. Once “fleeing” the dreaded China takeover of Hong Kong in 1997.

So let me get this straight: Canada should let us in because we came from lives of privilege in Hong Kong where we have what it took (money, education, professional background) to “qualify” for immigration. Now that we have entered the “safe haven”, we watch the Syrian situation developing, with hundreds of thousands dying, and we say we must not allow them to threaten “our” way of life? Why are we more deserving of safety, freedom, future for our children than the Syrians?

Are we serious? Like, really?

Because I work in the immigrant settlement sector, let me ask one more question of those who say we must “vet” refugees properly before allowing them entry. What exactly do we mean by “properly vetting” the refugees? Do you envision refugees lining up, all with perfectly certified documents, their documents being checked against some mega database, and then being issued a “This person is not ISIS” certificate?

These are people fleeing for their lives. Many, most of them have nothing more than the clothes on their backs. They are not tourists with perfectly stamped visas.

Given the massive wave of people fleeing Syria, no country, nor the United Nations have the man power and resources it takes to do do this kind of “investigative background check” on everyone. Yes, there are unknowns, but we cannot exaggerate the risks and assume everyone is a threat “until proven otherwise”.

The current Syrian refugee situation is the biggest humanitarian crisis we are facing. No single country has the ability to handle the challenge. It requires a coordinated, united global effort. If we in Canada have anything that is “God given”, it is the inescapable responsibility we have to be a world leader in this endeavor based how much we have been given and blessed with. (Isn’t there somewhere in the Bible that talks about to those much is given, much will be demanded?) But we cannot lead, if we are not setting the example.

One thought on “Sorry Mr. Huckabee, refugees are not peanuts

  1. Thank you for expressing clearly what so many of us have been feeling watching the unfolding of this terrible refugee crisis and the (often shameful) discourse here in Canada focussed only on self-protection. It is doubly troubling to see self-serving and prejudiced comments coming from the Christian community, so I appreciate your words, from the perspective of one who works with newcomers to Canada yourself.

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