Canada Must Stand Firm in Support of Syrian Refugees

Photo credit: Flickr/European Commission DG ECHO

The National Association of Japanese Canadians applauds the Liberal government’s clear commitment to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in communities across Canada over the next few months. We also are encouraged by the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s more general pledge to pursue a principled, humane approach in Canada’s international engagements.

The National Association of Japanese Canadians urges the Government of Canada to maintain an unwavering stance with respect to a refugee policy that is compassionate and upholds the human rights of all.

Recent news coverage in Canada, the United States and elsewhere highlights the potentially corrosive effects of shifting public opinion on government policy with regard to the Syrian refugees. Canada has long-established policies for selecting and resettling refugees in Canada. The recent suggestion by government officials that these protocols might be altered in the Syrian case can only be seen as an effort to cater to unfounded public concern.

In the United States, Roanoke Mayor David Bowers cited the incarceration of “Japanese” during World War II as justification for calling a halt to the resettlement of Syrian refugees to the United States. In a short space of 27 years, Mayor Bowers has forgotten the lessons from the Japanese American redress settlement of 1988.

Actor and Japanese-American George Takei wrote on Facebook:

“Mayor Bowers, there are a few key points of history you seem to have missed. The internment (not a “sequester”) was not of Japanese “foreign nationals,” but of Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens,” Takei writes. “I was one of them, and my family and I spent 4 years in prison camps because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbour. It is my life’s mission to never let such a thing happen again in America.”

The Government of Canada has a responsibility not to yield to short-term solutions influenced by the politics of racism. Rather, our government has a responsibility to pursue policies that uphold international standards of human rights. The Japanese Canadian community will never forget the racism that fueled the wrongful dispossession, incarceration, exile and dispersal of some 22,000 innocent people between 1942-1949. At that time, it was people of “Japanese origin” who were targeted under the guise of national security. Today, it is people of the Islamic faith – particularly those of Middle Eastern origin – who are caught in the same spotlight of fear and hatred. They are labelled “terrorists,” simply by virtue of their faith and culture. We, as a society, cannot allow such hatred to dictate our public policy and allow it to become institutionalized.

The path for Canada is clear. Our country has a role to play by taking a strong stand against racism and fear-based politics.

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