Refugees in Hungary

Photo Credit/Mystaslav Chernov

Citing the “moral urgency” of the Syrian refugee crisis, U of T’s president Meric Gertler has announced that U of T, along with York and OCAD, will be joining the Ryerson University Lifeline Syria Challenge. The initiative seeks to sponsor 25 Syrian refugee families. In addition, U of T’s “Scholars-At-Risk” program will be expanded to include “Syrian students at risk,” as well as other academic refugees.

The scale of the Syrian refugee crisis has few parallels. Syria’s population is approximately 18,000,000. Estimates vary, but since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011, approximately 6,500,000 persons, half of whom are children, have been displaced to other parts of the country. Another 4,088,099 refugees have fled the country entirely for places such as: Turkey (2,138,000); Lebanon (1,172,753); Jordan (500,000); Iraq (251,500); and Kuwait (120,000). In Europe, Germany has accepted 105,000 refugees, Austria has taken in 18,000 and Sweden 31,000. Other European nations have accepted even smaller numbers of people.


Interestingly, in Europe there is no clear correlation between the wealth of a country and the number of refugees accepted. Of Europe’s wealthy countries, only Sweden and Germany have accepted a significant number of refugees. Sweden has been by far the most generous on a per capita basis. Germany's total refugee intake from all countries this year will reach approximately 800,000.


To date, Canada has accepted approximately 2,374 Syrian refugees, a fraction of Sweden's intake. It is noteworthy that as well as accepting a small number of refugees, Canada has participated directly in bombing campaigns over Syria. Canadians of all political stripes have therefore questioned whether we aren't, in fact, helping to create the refugee problem as opposed to solving it. Drew Garvie, a Communist candidate for University-Rosedale in the federal election, says, “The Harper government’s participation in the illegal bombing of Syria and its uncritical support for the United State’s policy of divide and conquer in the region must be ended immediately.”


What do Canadians themselves think? Recent polls show that while 25% of Canadians support Stephen Harper's security-first, minimalist approach to the Syrian refugee issue, 52% think we need to do more to help refugees. Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has suggested that the current approach compares poorly to Germany's recent open gate attitude (Germany has since closed its borders): “It’s not acceptable. How many Hungarians who have come during the crisis 50 or 60 years ago have caused problems to Canada? Name me one,” he remarked. “How many Ismalians who came to Canada have caused problems? How many Vietnamese people? How many Kosovars? For me, common sense should prevail.”


The Conservatives have promised to bring in 10,000 Syrians by the end of 2017. The NDP has promised to bring in 10,000 and the Liberals 25,000 by the end of the year. Those numbers stand in stark contrast to polls showing that 41% of Canadians think that up to 100,000 refugees would be well within Canada's means.

The Conservatives stand alone in continuing to insist that there are substantial security issues involved. This position plays well to their core supporters.That said, even an increasing number of Conservative heavyweights, including Barbara McDougall, David Crombie and Joe Clark to name only a few, have refused to accept this reasoning.

To get involved or make a donation to the Lifeline Syria Challenge, contact: and



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