Sep 182015

Katrin MacPhee and Mark Culligan, members of Solidarity Halifax, write in The Coast about Canada’s role in the Syrian refugee crisis. 

This country deserves the blame for failing to act and contributing to a crisis.

Alan Kurdi’s death on a Turkish beach has weighed heavily on the consciences of Canadians.

The discovery that an NDP MP personally appealed to Immigration and Citizenship minister Chris Alexander on behalf of the Kurdi family has sparked moral outrage and a call to action.

Ottawa must submit to the demands of human decency and immediately settle as many Syrian refugees as possible. What is missing so far from the public conversation, however, is a clear discussion of how the Harper government helped create the conditions for crisis in Syria through its environmental and foreign policy.

The current refugee crisis is an environmental crisis. Between 2006 and 2011, Syria experienced its worst drought on record. Francesco Femia and other analysts argue that the drought, which displaced as many as 1.5 million Syrians, was the true precipitating cause of the civil war. The Syrian civil war is the latest in a series of climate conflicts, from Darfur to Nigeria, in which desertification has forced the dispossessed to take up arms or flee across borders.

Canada’s climate crimes are infamous. Canada was the first nation to withdraw from the Kyoto protocol, and the only country to withdraw from the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. At every turn, Canada’s ruling class has opposed the implementation of serious domestic and international policies to combat climate disaster. The world’s poorest and most vulnerable are on the front lines of climate conflict. While Canadian capitalists have benefited from the earth’s destruction, they are shielded from its impacts.

Ottawa owes the Syrian people justice because it is party to the conflict that drives them from their homes. Ottawa played cheerleader while the Americans armed and trained anti-Assad forces. Since November 2014, our air force has conducted more than 140 airstrikes against ISIS targets. The Syrian civil war is sustained by western interventions and made more devastating for civilians by relentless bombing in ISIS-controlled areas. Harper claims that we are fighting ISIS to protect civilians from the “international jihadist movement,” but the Pentagon recently reported that one such bombing killed up to 27 civilians on 21 January. If the goal is to exercise the right to protect, wouldn’t refugee sponsorship be a more effective way to save lives?

The sad truth is that our foreign policy is guided by political rather than humanitarian concerns; weapons contracts are traded for campaign donations, military jobs win votes and tough-on-terror posturing distracts the public. The Harper government sabotaged its own quota for Syrian refugees: 2,347 Syrians have been admitted, even though 11,300 places were promised in 2013. Alan Kurdi and his compatriots are victims of a refugee policy that requires them to go to near-impossible lengths to prove their innocence.

Of course, not all Canadians benefit equally from the violence of our environmental and foreign policies. These acts are committed for the benefit of the capitalist class against the wishes of the majority. We must throw open our borders and we must oppose the crimes committed in our names. To do both, we must engage in the long-term struggle for actual democracy. Only with the creation of a true peoples’ government will the creation of refugees through capitalist violence cease.

Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.




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