Christina Chung/THE VARSITY

This past December, crowds gathered at airports in Toronto and Montreal to welcome the first of 25,000 Syrian refugees coming to Canada in the coming months. The warm and enthusiastic greeting they received is the envy of people across the world, especially with the recent rise of xenophobic populists like Donald Trump in the United States and Marine Le Pen in France.

Simultaneously, it also provided a great photo-op for a recently elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to appear more ‘open’ and relatable, at least in comparison to his predecessor. Prime Minister Trudeau even went as far as urging Canadians to welcome the Syrian refugees in his Christmas message in The Toronto Star.

There is no doubt that Canada’s efforts to take in refugees should be applauded – in fact, many of our peers came to Canada in a similar way. However, it is also important to view Canada’s contributions from a global perspective, and take caution not to become complacent.

it is also important to view Canada’s contributions from a global perspective, and take caution not to become complacent

The 25,000 refugees — Immigration Minister John McCallum says as many as 50,000 refugees, at least 70 per cent from Syria, could arrive by the end of this year — the Liberal government has pledged to bring to Canada by February is a mere drop in the ocean, given the number of civilians in the region. There are around four million refugees across Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, at least one million living in Lebanon alone, where they make up almost one-fifth of the countrys population. In Jordan, the influx of people is roughly equivalent to almost the entire population of Canada moving to the United States, in less than two years. The Za’atari refugee camp in northern Jordan — a tract of land once fitting for a post-apocalyptic film set — is now the fourth-largest in the world and houses around one hundred thousand refugees.

To make matters worse, about six million people remain internally displaced in Syria. Of the five million refugees generated by the Syrian civil war, 51 per cent are 17 or younger. There is growing concern about the ‘lost generation’ – children growing up in refugee camps, uneducated, angry, and bored.

The sheer scale of the issue is of particular importance when considering the coverage of the crisis by major outlets. Appealing to emotion is an easy way for outlets to capture bandwidth and sell advertising. Portraying the new government in a positive light is also an easy way for a public broadcaster, gutted by funding cuts, to win some political clout.

The CBC’s coverage of the arrival of the first plane carrying Syrian refugees came off as a desperate attempt to lionize the Prime Minister to an angelic status. It may be heartwarming for viewers to see the Prime Minister fitting children into winter jackets, and the Premier of Ontario handing out stuffed animals. However, these apparently grand gestures pale in comparison to the work required in the great project that is solving the refugee crisis.

The Liberal government’s openness to Syrian refugees is not even that groundbreaking as far as policy goes. Since 2005, Canada has admitted over 260,000 refugees. The largest source is not Syria, Somalia, or Haiti – countries typically associated with refugees – but Colombia. Ongoing low-intensity conflict over the past 50 years has brought over 17,000 Colombian refugees to Canada since 2004. Even as the first group of refugees arrived from Syria to the Prime Minister’s official welcome, another group of Ghanaian refugees were arriving without fanfare.

Certainly, we should be proud of Canada’s contributions to the Syrian humanitarian crisis. But, especially as students, we have a responsibility to be critical of a fawning media and a camera-ready Prime Minister. There are other conflicts around the world that continue to affect millions of people, and those individuals deserve just as much of our attention as the most recent group of proud, new Canadians.

Jonathan Wilkinson is a fourth-year student at University College studying international relations.

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