On Target: We must take some of blame for refugee crisis

Refugees and migrants arriving from Turkey to Lesbos, Greece on September 9, 2015. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Refugees and migrants arriving from Turkey to Lesbos, Greece on September 9, 2015. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

It never fails to amaze me how easily we forget to examine the root causes of a crisis and thereby deny any sense of responsibility.

For instance, the flood of migrants into western Europe is viewed with trepidation and treated with fear-based Band-Aid solutions. That’s what motivated the Hungarian government to staunch the flow of humanity across its border by erecting a three-metre fence across its 170-kilometre-long boundary with Serbia. This, of course, didn’t stop anything; it simply backed up the mingling hordes inside Serbia and forced them into neighbouring Croatia.

There is much hand-wringing and browbeating among officials who try to categorize the asylum seekers as either actual refugees or opportunistic migrants seeking a better life.

The focus has been on the plight of the Syrian refugees ever since the tragic death of three-year-old Alan Kurdi was captured in dramatic photographs that quickly created a wave of guilty grief around the world. In Canada, the response — once the shock of the little boy’s death wore off — was that “it’s really not our problem.”

While overcrowded boats of desperate people may brave short voyages across the Mediterranean, thus far no boats have attempted to cross the Atlantic. Because only 2,500 refugees to date have been admitted into Canada following Syria’s descent into civil war in the spring of 2011, the migrant issue is hardly a crisis in Canada.

That said, the question begs: How is Canada not at least partially responsible to these Syrian victims?

John Baird, Canada’s then-foreign affairs minister, was one of the most bellicose western leaders demanding that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “must go.” Baird met with Syrian rebel leaders-in-exile and broke off all diplomatic ties with the Assad government.

Believing their own propaganda that Assad was a despised dictator, western leaders thought the Syrian revolution would be quickly carried by the democracy-loving rebels. Only after a few months of scrutiny did it become apparent that Assad’s foes were in fact Islamic extremists in the form of al-Qaida and ISIS. Syria’s Shiite Alawite and Christian minorities allied with Assad weren’t so much fighting to protect the embattled president as they were fighting Sunni Muslim extremists to protect themselves from persecution.

As the Syrian civil war comes to the end of its fifth year, these millions of Syrians who fled the fighting initially are giving up hope for a safe return to their homes in Syria any time soon. There are more than two million Syrian refugees in Turkey and another 1.4 million in Jordan.

Tired of putting their lives in the limbo of a temporary camp, the vanguard of that massive horde has only just begun its migration toward a better life — any life — they hope to have in a developed country.

For Canada to have fanned the flames of a regime change in the form of our former leather-lunged foreign affairs minister means we must take responsibility for the blazing wreck that it blew up into.

The sad news, of course, is that, among all those thousands seeking asylum, the Syrians are not even the majority.

Many of the migrants come from as far afield as Pakistan and Afghanistan, fleeing nearly 30 years of constant conflict and a resurgent Taliban in the wake of NATO’s failed 14-year military intervention. Libyans are also fleeing the anarchy that has gripped their country since NATO assisted in the toppling of President Moammar Gadhafi in October 2011. Ironically, Libyan human traffickers are profiting from their now-unrestricted illegal transport of desperate humanity to Europe’s shores. Many of those setting sail via the Libyan port of Benghazi are Somalis who have endured violent anarchy since the failed U.S.-led intervention into their nation in 1992.

Closer to home, tens of thousands of Albanian Kosovars are joining the columns of asylum seekers. NATO bombed Serbia for 78 days in 1999 to set Kosovo on its path toward becoming an independent state in 2008. Despite flying its own flag, it seems that the lack of investment and genuine commerce in the country is forcing Albanian Kosovars to seek subsistence elsewhere.

For the record, Canada participated in the bombing campaign of Serbia, contributed to the interventions in Somalia and Afghanistan, led the NATO charge in Libya and is now bombing targets inside Iraq and Syria. But somehow the migrant crisis is not our problem?