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International media report millions of people are trapped. When the pandemic hit, fear of foreigners surged and many migrants faced new restrictions. Some were forced to close businesses and shops, just because of their ethnic background. South Africa built a 40-kilometre emergency fence on the border with Zimbabwe to block the virus, even though it had already arrived by airplane from Europe. According to The Economist, every single country introduced border restrictions and there’s a real fear those many not end with widespread vaccinations.
Fortunately, Canadians avoided the worst of that knee-jerk reaction. Sharry Aiken, associate professor of immigrant and refugee law at Queen’s University, says she sees no evidence Canada’s long-term commitment to immigration and resettlement is shifting. There’s widespread acceptance that immigration is important to the Canadian economy, and several sectors are currently struggling with labour shortages because of the border restrictions.
But here and around the world, Aiken says, “refugees have been caught in the worst possible space and with no recourse.”
Alsakka Amini says he hasn’t given up hope, especially since Canada recently opened the door a crack for refugees from six other countries. He showed me proudly around the tiny apartment in Algeria, Rafi’s bed tucked beside his parents’ in the bedroom, his drawings and first English words hanging on the walls. I can hear the call to prayer floating above the dark streets in the background.
I know there is still reason for fear; the virus isn’t done with us yet and people already here worry about paying bills as government subsidies shrink. I get that. But we also have a commitment to refugees. I hope fear doesn’t stand in the way of honouring it.
Elise Stolte is an opinion columnist with the Edmonton Journal.
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