Refugees were not protected in their own country

It’s easy to feel good watching the footage of the first Syrian refugee families arriving in Canada to cheers.

  • Jan. 12, 2016 5:00 a.m.

Yule Schmidt

Contributor Troy Media

WHITEHORSE, Yukon/Troy Media/ It’s easy to feel good watching the footage of the first Syrian refugee families arriving inCanada to cheers. It’s especially fitting for the holidays a reminder of Canadian generosity in the season of giving.

But these images thinly veil the ongoing conflict in the Middle East that has turned these families into refugees. As good as we may feel for having opened our doors, their arrival is a reminder that, although we may accept them as refugees to our country, we did not protect them as citizens in their own.

It’s been five years since the Syrian War began. That conflict has morphed into a hodgepodge of proxy battles, spawning millions of refugees. Today, the “migrant crisis” is such a headliner that we seldom think about the war that precipitated it. But addressing the migrant crisis alone won’t end the conflict. You can’t cure a disease by treating its symptoms.

We’ve inadvertently allowed our zeal to help refugees to serve as an excuse for military inaction. It’s a familiar pattern. When bad things happen, we have a habit of trying to find something to do about it without intervening militarily, even if that would be the most effective (or only) way to solve the problem. We’ve developed a phobia of force that we can’t reconcile with our desire to act when atrocities occur, so we mollify our guilty consciences by sending “thoughts and prayers” and looking for benign ways to feel like we’re contributing.

Recall the 200 girls who Boko Haram kidnapped last year. People around the world stood with signs imploring the terrorists to #bringourgirlshome. For a week, we felt collectively empowered because we were responding to this outrage. But the girls never came home and we did nothing about it. Our drive to act was only as strong as the paper on which that hashtag was written.

To be sure, there is a more practical aspect to accepting refugees than holding up signs, but we can’t relocate the entire Syrian population. And even if we could, it wouldn’t end the conflict. It would just export it to other places.

Part of the problem is that the war is halfway around the world. A massacre in Paris still means more to us than ongoing slaughter in Sinjar. We trumpet globalization as having eradicated the divide between “over there” and “here” and we speak of the global village but when our fellow villagers are raped and killed, our weak drive to support them with anything but words exposes our hypocrisy. Our physical distance trumps our metaphorical proximity.

Aside from our masked tribalism, though, our inaction boils down to our avoidance of using the military at all costs.