4 reasons Canadians should not be afraid to welcome refugees

Do you know someone who's worried about refugees?

There's been terrible stuff in the news lately, plus Canada just wrapped up an election that veered into some very dark places. So it's understandable some otherwise well-meaning people might feel nervous.

But is that emotion justified? Here are some facts that might help cooler heads prevail:

1. Could "malevolent individuals" sneak into the country?

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall recently suggested "malevolent individuals" could "undermine the refugee screening process."

Wall's comments were called "irresponsible," and the heads of both the RCMP and CSIS say they have no security concerns related to the screening process.

In fact, refugees face very strict vetting in Canada. Before they even step foot on Canadian soil, refugees undergo three separate levels of intense screening:

1. Potential refugees are screened by the UNHCR which screens each family by documenting their history and even using biometric and other high-tech scanning tools. Many refugees will have already spent months or years sitting in refugee camps waiting just to be interviewed.

2. The UNHCR triages refugees onto their resettlement list, giving priority to women with children, unaccompanied minors, the elderly, sick and vulnerable. At this stage, they're interviewed a second time.

3. Canadian security officials perform their own background checks, including another interview and extensive searches of the databases of the Canadian Border Security Agency, CSIS and the RCMP to identify potential risks. 

Following these levels of screening, refugees will spend 12 weeks at "interim lodging sites" that may include military bases and even docked cruise ships during their "community integration process."

"The idea that ISIS would use the refugee system to infiltrate Canada is vastly overblown," national security expert Wesley Wark told the Toronto Star, pointing out they are unlikely to sit in a refugee camp for years waiting for an interview with visa officers.

Only 1% of refugees make it to the second stage.

2. Refugees actually pose a very low threat to national security

Canada is prioritizing vulnerable groups like women, children, the elderly and sick, all of whom, as Carleton University professor and former UNHCR consultant James Milner points out, are not "prime recruits" for extremist groups.

"If you were a potential terrorist looking to gain access to Canada," Milner adds, "about the last way you'd want to come in as a resettled refugee."

According to Peter Showler, former head of Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board, single young men or those who are unable to account for missing documents will not be admitted.

Over 263,000 refugees arrived in Canada between 2005 and 2014, yet two high-profile murders last year in Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec were both carried out by individuals born and raised in Canada. 

3. What ISIS really wants is for you be afraid of refugees 

Counterterrorism expert Harleen Gambhir says one of the objectives of attacks like those in France is to "provoke an anti-Muslim backlash" and "polarize Western society."

ISIS has explicitly stated that they want to "compel the Crusaders to actively destroy the grayzone themselves" with the goal of persuading Western Muslims to pack their bags and go to to Syria to "escape persecution."

They're also on the record saying they want to stop refugees from fleeing Syria, in part because "one of their main sources of income in ISIS-controlled territory is taxation of the people there."

"A world that welcomes Syrians can help defeat extremism," says UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming. "But a world that rejects Syrians, and especially Muslim refugees, will just feed into their propaganda.”

4. And just a reminder: many Canadians came to Canada as refugees

From United Empire Loyalists to refugees from Ireland or Ukraine to more recently in Vietnam, Somalia or Afghanistan (to name only a few examples), many Canadians trace their histories to a moment when they or their families came to Canada seeking refuge.

Why not pay it forward?

Photo: UNHCR.

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