Thursday, September 3, 2015

Aylan Kurdi's death is Canada's shame

Sometimes images and events are so horrible and heartbreaking that words almost fail.

We have all, by now, heard of or seen the terribly distressing photos of a small, lifeless 3 year old boy washed ashore, dead, after drowning as his family sought to escape the horrors of Syria's civil war.

These photos have finally jarred many out of their complacency and de facto or actual indifference to the staggering levels of suffering and desperation that are the reality of this refugee crisis.

Human suffering. The suffering of real, actual people.

The suffering of children, innocent of any role in the deadly and violent brutalities of "adults". The tiny and saddest victims of the clashes of ideologies and extremisms, but also of the lies that are all these lines in the sand we have built to arbitrarily separate us from each other that we call borders.

Now, as it turns out, the child on that beach,, whose name was Aylan, could have been safely in Canada:

Aylan's aunt, who lives in the Vancouver area, had sought to get Canadian refugee status for her relatives in the Syrian town of Kobani, which was devastated by battles between ISIS and Kurdish fighters, legislator Fin Donnelly told The Canadian Press. Donnelly submitted the application on the family's behalf. 
Canadian immigration authorities first rejected the application, in part because of the family's lack of exit visas to ease their passage out of Turkey and their lack of internationally recognized refugee status, the aunt, Teema Kurdi, told the newspaper the Ottawa Citizen. It said she is a hair stylist who moved to Canada more than 20 years ago.
Teema Kurdi said the family her brother Abdullah, his wife Rehan and their two boys, 3-year-old Aylan and 5-year-old Galip embarked on the perilous boat journey only after their bid to move to Canada was rejected. 
"I was trying to sponsor them, and I have my friends and my neighbors who helped me with the bank deposits, but we couldn't get them out, and that is why they went in the boat," she told the Citizen.
For years Canada has tightened the rules and made it harder-and-harder for refugees and asylum seekers, as well as those seeking to immigrate generally, to come to our country. Aylan and his five year old brother are the direct human consequence of this.

Of course the fighting in Syria drove them out, and absolutely the policies of the European Union also led to them being on that boat. There are many levels of human ugliness that contributed to this horrific outcome.

But, the fact remains that Canada had turned them away.

Now, grotesquely, Canada has finally offered the distraught father of the boys the citizenship that would have saved them. After having lost his wife and children he has declined.

And now, after stalling and denying the facts for months in the media right up until yesterday, the Minister of Immigration, Chris Alexander, has suspended his election campaigning and is in meetings to belatedly "act" on the crisis. Alexander who had been apparently made directly aware of this specific family's plight by an NDP MP.

And, of course, there will promises and pledges and statements.

But this is all too late for those little boys and for the countless other stories of death and suffering that we have not heard of.

Our elected government, our public officials, our border regulations have meant that while we can only hope public outrage and mobilization will now save future Aylans who seek refuge in our vast and wealthy country, it is too late for him.

Whatever contributions he might have one day made to Canada and the world, whatever dreams, possibilities or paths he might have pursued, are forever erased.

A caller to a radio call-in show on the CBC today that was devoted to the issue, after noting that his family of poor labourers that came to Canada when he was also three would likely not have been allowed in under the new rules, said "Shame on Minister Alexander and shame on us all."

And he is right.

Shame on the Conservative government, yes, but also shame on us all.

Update: Aylan's aunt has now apparently clarified that his family had not yet applied for citizenship or refugee status directly in Canada (though she had for his brother and his family had been rejected on the specious grounds stated above) as she could not afford to make more than one application, and the Canadian government has denied offering the father citizenship in the wake of the tragedy. Chris Alexander was, however, approached about the family by NDP MP Donnelly, and the fact of how Canada has made refugee claims harder and the reality of its disgracefully inadequate response to the Syrian refugee crisis remains. 

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