Montreal Auxiliary Bishop Alain Faubert

Editorial: A test of compassion

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  • September 8, 2017

As Montreal Auxiliary Bishop Alain Faubert quite rightly puts it, there is nothing complicated about how we should respond to a summer influx of asylum seekers at Quebec’s southern border.

“This is Christ knocking on our door,” he said.

For him and many others it is that simple.

Of course there are various political, social and economic challenges when 8,000 desperate people show up uninvited asking for help. But the immediate question is how does a compassionate society behave when someone in distress is at your doorstep? You greet them with outstretched arms.

The explanations for why waves of asylum seekers are crossing illegally from the United States into Canada may be complex, but our gut response should always be simple kindness. Extend shelter, food and comfort, and let other matters get sorted out in time.

Faubert got it right when he called this a test of what “we really stand for as human beings,” and when he asked, “who are we to judge why they crossed the border?” They are strangers, so we welcome them. They are hungry, so we give them food. They are thirsty, so we give them drink. For Christians, there is no other option.

But while citizens extend hands of kindness it is also imperative that Ottawa act swiftly and fairly to assess not only these refugee claims, but a growing refugee backlog. There are currently some 45,000 sponsored refugees around the world who have had hearings and passed security and medical checks, but still await a government rubber stamp before they get a ticket to Canada. That’s not counting about 24,000 asylum seekers — and growing — who are already in Canada and in line for hearings, plus those who have recently crossed into Quebec.

Canada’s bishops are among those who have called on Ottawa to eliminate the 45,000 sponsored backlog by next summer. The government claims the task will take three years. That’s unacceptable. Canada’s immigration system showed in 2016 what is possible when it marshalled resources to process some 46,000 Syrian refugees. This summer’s events need to spur a rekindling of that single-mindedness.

Initiating measures to purge all of the backlog — primarily by increasing manpower — should be a priority starting Sept. 18 when Parliament’s fall session begins. The status quo is obviously unfair to refugees stuck in the system, but also to private sponsors who make good-faith investments in time and money so refugees can begin new lives in Canada. What is absolutely unneeded is another review of the backlog, as has been suggested by the immigration minister.

This summer’s arrival in Quebec of some 8,000 new refugees only exacerbates an already dire situation. As Bishop Faubert said, when we see people who need help we can’t just stand around “with our arms crossed.”

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