On the first night of the Liberal government’s Syrian refugee airlift in December, every television station in Toronto had a camera crew at Pearson International Airport looking for jittery Middle Eastern families awaiting the deliverance of their loved ones.
By coincidence, on Dec. 10, Neil Jones was also waiting for refugees at the airport – a brother and sister from the Ivory Coast he was helping to sponsor through his Toronto-area church.
At one point in the evening, a broadcast reporter approached Mr. Jones for an interview. With their anxious air and expectant smiles, his group was just the kind to fill airtime before the government planes started arriving from Beirut. But when the reporter discovered that their refugees were Ivorian, the interview was dropped.
The experience piqued Mr. Jones. A laconic Englishman, he didn’t especially want to be on TV, but he thought that it was silly for the suffering of one group to be prioritized over another’s.
“We have to be aware that Syria isn’t the only problem in the world,” he said later in the night, amid the gleaming white tile of the Terminal 1 arrivals lounge. “There are refugees from all over the world and we mustn’t forget that.”
The phrase could be a slogan for the growing number of sponsors and settlement workers who feel that refugees from other parts of the world are being neglected amid the clamour to help people fleeing Syria.
It’s a sentiment that many air gingerly to avoid seeming churlish about what they see as an encouraging pro-refugee stand from the new government, directed toward worthy recipients.
But as Immigration Minister John McCallum trumpets the fulfilment of his pledge to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February, and sets refugee-arrival targets for the rest of the year, those concerns are being aired more vocally.
“We’ve been hearing it for a long time from our members across the country,” said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees. “There’s been a kind of favouring of Syrians against other refugees.”