Public Forum on Syrian Refugee Crisis

October 16, 2015

Dan Hiebert is featured speakerNearly 100 people came to MOSAIC’s headquarters at Commercial Drive on October 14 to learn more about the global refugee crisis from UBC professor and migration expert, Dan Hiebert. The forum was a part of MOSAIC’s ongoing campaign to engage and inform the public about the issue.Hiebert began his presentation by explaining that the refugee crisis has been going on for years. To this day, more than 3,800 migrants throughout the world have died in their attempts to make it to a new country.Although more migrants actually died in 2014, Hiebert hypothesized that the tragic photo of Alan Kurdi was a “galvanizing incident” that did more than statistics ever could to get the public interested in the situation.Hiebert went on to briefly explain the conflict in Syria and how there are many different factions fighting for control of the country. He showed photos depicting the devastation of the country, and explained that more than 250,000 Syrians have been killed and 5 million have already left the country, with many more on the way.Four million of the Syrian refugees have gone to adjacent countries while only 1 million of them have made it to Europe.Although Hiebert said he did not want to minimize any of their struggles, he emphasized that the refugees we hear the most about (in Europe), are actually the ones who are “best off.” They have the greatest mobility thanks to money, family networks and physical ability.Hiebert went on to discuss Turkey, which is the largest host of refugees and has already spent $7.6 billion to help them. The country has at least 2 million refugees, 55% of whom are under the age of 18.Hiebert described the mixed Turkish public opinion about refugees, and how they are essentially willing to be temporary hosts but not long-term hosts. He also explained how the European Union (EU) expects Turkey to take in refugees, while limiting their ability to come to any EU countries.He then moved on to Germany’s efforts to accept and integrate refugees into its society, to help with its own declining population. However, Germany plans to turn away 65% of the 800,000 or more refugees who will seek asylum in their country this year, while the dollars spent settling the accepted refugees is considered as an “investment.”“Nobody is grasping the scale of 500,000 people being given deportation orders,” Hiebert said. “That’s something to let sink in for a minute, because it’s quite a profound situation.”Finally, he discussed Canada’s reaction to the situation, and how there are three ways of becoming a refugee – either through government sponsorship, private sponsorship, or by showing up to the country and making an asylum claim.The number of expected refugees is about 30% less than it was 10 years ago.In regards to Syrian refugees, the government has made a commitment to bring in 10,000 over the span of several years. Hiebert explained that Canada is therefore taking in one-fifth of 1% of the total Syrian refugee population, and that – compared to the country’s population, wealth and land mass – it is “a pretty modest number.”He said that more isn’t being done because public opinion about the matter is “all over the map.”“(Canada’s) response is just too small in comparison to the scale of the issue,” Hiebert said, adding that the only real hope lies in private sponsorship.Hiebert concluded his presentation by saying, “ultimately, we are nowhere near a global solution.”Afterwards, audience members asked questions and made statements, many of which were passionate and related to what Canadians can do to help.