In northern Lebanon on a cold, windy day, I met Ra’ed and his family — Syrian Christian refugees. “Over the last three years, we have experienced hunger and witnessed unimaginable atrocities,” he told me on my most recent trip to the region.
For his children’s sake, he desperately hopes to be able to go to Canada or Europe, but anywhere will do.
As Canada begins receiving 25,000 Syrian refugees (between now and the end of February) there is no peace in sight in the Middle East. The so-called Islamic State appears to be as strong as it was a year ago despite heavy bombing by the allied states. The reality is that defeating ISIS will only happen if there is the political will to build lasting peace in Iraq and Syria.
It is good policy as well as a wonderful humanitarian gesture for Canada to welcome Syrian refugees, but the lack of peace and increasing political unrest means that there will be more refugees knocking on the doors of the international community.
Will Canada and the West be ready to welcome more refugees in the coming years? Will the global community be able to keep up the aid required to reach out to millions of new refugees still in the Middle East? Already, countries such as Lebanon with 1.4 million refugees and Jordan with one million have reached their limits. Refugee camps are packed and miserable. Host countries are running out of resources — and patience.
The Holy See reports that Catholic charities around the world generated a whopping $126 million U.S. in aid in 2014 to face the Iraqi and Syrian humanitarian crisis — reaching more than four million people in the process. This is far from enough, however, and it will be difficult to maintain this pace.
Peace and stability are the only lasting solution.
However, the peace process is influenced by the ugly truth that war is good business for countries with strong weapons industries. Petroleum supremacy and manipulation is at play, too. A long-lasting battle between Shiite and Sunni Muslims to control the region is another factor. As well, Russia and the United States are trying to re-establish their global influence in the region and it appears this battle for political supremacy will amp up in coming years, to the detriment of those caught in the middle.
Pope Francis has said numerous times in recent months that political leaders seem more interested in petroleum and arms than in the well-being of people. “While they speak of peace and justice, they permit the traffickers in death to operate in that land.”
In Canada, while it has been a step in the right direction for the new government to welcome an increased number of refugees and end airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, the real test lies in how Prime Minister Trudeau will address the pressing challenge of building a lasting peace for the Middle East and our world.
In the meantime, organizations like the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and many others are doing their best to provide the basics of life for millions of people, like Ra’ed and his family, to live in dignity while waiting for a solution. They would like to return home, but without peace any home will do that is away from the horrors of war.
Hétu is the Canadian national director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.