What role does Canada play in the Middle East and the refugee crisis?

Renowned journalist, distinguished filmmaker, and the UN ambassador for Greece meet discuss this topic for SFU’s Public Square Community Summit


By: Ana Maria Mejia-Morales

As SFU’s Public Square Community Summit comes to an end, one last issue had to be discussed: the Middle East and the refugee crisis. This was the case last Tuesday, as award-winning Middle East correspondent for The Independent, Robert Fisk, Greek ambassador to the United Nations, Catherine Boura, and filmmaker Nelofer Pazira took the stage at Vancouver’s Playhouse to discuss this topic.

Fisk was the first to address the audience, where he mentioned the commonalities of this refugee crisis to the effect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and questioned the involvement of the West as the root to the problem.

“‘Oh Canada, God bless you,’ we now say in Europe. A country which has rediscovered its heart and has resumed its peacekeeping duties and its care for the masses,” he said  raising the national pride in the room. Whilst rapidly bringing down the sentiment with hard-hitting reality, stating, “Although, even here in Canada I fear the contagion of Trump America and European nationalism has touched you.”

The UN ambassador for Greece delivered a speech describing the arduous trip refugees embark on, and the complex issue countries like Greece, Italy, and Turkey face when receiving refugees. A difficult position for Boura, considering Greece is one of the European countries most affected by the conflict as 7,000 refugees were arriving daily in 2015. Yet she explained, “Greek authorities and people knew the options were very little; one either saves those at risk at sea or you let them die.” They chose the latter.

Most unexpected was the account by filmmaker Nelofer Pazira, a refugee from Afghanistan, who at age 10 escaped her country and fled to Pakistan after 10 years of Soviet invasion. Arriving in New Brunswick later, her account was vividly composed of personal experiences, giving refugees a presence and a voice in the discussion.

As the speakers were able to interact with one another, several issues prevailed throughout the night. The inability of the worldwide media to present unbiased news due to their rhetoric, or as Fisk called it, “lies.” As well as the prevailing responsibility of the West and the constant questioning of what the international community can do.

Canada’s role was also questioned, asking “Who Needs Canada?” This was the topic of this SFU Public Square’s Community Summit. As Pazira explained “Canada can play a greater and better leadership role. We should be able to go out there and present ideas for not just saying we accept more refugees, but more idea[s] of sustainable possibilit[ies] of resolving the problems.”

Does the Middle East need Canada? This couldn’t be denied by anyone in the room. Yet, considering the country has been positioned 15th behind other industrialized countries accepting refugees according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, this leaves the country with a lot of room for improvement.

Fisk had more of a critical approach, differentiating Canada into two, “The actual population often thinks about the Middle East much more rationally, fairly, and with much more justice than the elites of your [governments] and our governments do.” Yet if the elites are the ones that govern the country, the question seems to change; does Canada actually want to help the Middle East?

Pazira clearly pointed to the actions that should be taken: “As individuals, we should not become complacent. Because its [the crisis] not only part of one society, it’s part of us as human beings.”

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