The image of a lifeless three-year-old Syrian refugee washed up on a Turkish beach haunts the president of the Syrian Assembly of Manitoba.
“It could’ve been my kid,” said Jude Kasas, who has three young children. Like millions of people around the world, they’ve seen the heartbreaking photo of Alan Kurdi, he said.
Had he not come to Canada as an international student 15 years ago and stayed, he and his family could be among the desperate Syrians boarding dangerous boats in the Mediterranean, he said.
“Canada was the best option, and it is still the best option.”
He hopes the image of the child’s tragic death haunts governments around the world and moves them to act — especially Canada’s government.
This may be Canada’s chance “to be mentioned in the good books of history” if it opens its doors to Syria, said Kasas.
“What should happen now is what should have happened three or four years ago when we started asking the federal government of the world’s second-largest country and a member of the G7 to help. With all the resources we have, we could share in the burden and open our doors like Germany and Turkey have been doing,” he said.
“All we’re asking for is a chance for the families to come here to Canada and contribute to Canadian society. Those people are desperate for a safe place and Canada… has that.
“I think political will is what we’re missing right now,” Kasas said.
“To me and so many of my friends, this is becoming an election factor. Our decision in October will be influenced by this. We have seen our current government demonstrate an unwillingness and unwelcomeness to the Syrian community.”
It’s allowed too few privately sponsored Syrian refugees into Canada and hasn’t stepped up to provide government assistance to resettle more, he said. To privately sponsor a refugee requires a major cash outlay upfront — $25,000 for a family of five, he said. That’s too much for the small and fledgling Syrian community in Manitoba to do on its own, he added. It has joined with the group Refuge Winnipeg to sponsor three large Syrian families who are waiting in a Lebanese refugee camp to come to Manitoba.
“This is an opportunity for Canada to be mentioned in the good books of history,” said Kasas. “It’s chance to do it again like when we helped the Vietnamese by sponsoring over 50,000 of them. We can do it again and give the Syrian refugees special consideration. They are completely desperate,” he said.
“All they’re asking for is to live in a safe place and re-establish their lives.”
Canada, which relies on immigration for population growth, would benefit, he said. “We need people to help us drive our economy.”
Syrian newcomers would be a good fit for Canada, said Kasas.
“English is taught as a second language in Syria and a lot of families are highly educated and highly skilled and will contribute to society. We’re talking about very hard-working people.”
Helping them resettle here would be a good investment, said Kasas.
“It will cost some money but once the families come here and establish themselves, they become taxpayers and part of the Canadian mosaic.”