Lasha Morningstar

WE ARE ONE

September 28, 2015

Tears rolled down my cheeks. The photo of Aylan Kurdi's lifeless body lying crumpled on the Turkish beach had loaded onto my computer screen.

That heart-breaking image put a face on the news stories blanketing the media about the waves of African and Middle Eastern refugees fleeing their war-torn countries.

The news clips tell of desperate flights across turbulent Mediterranean waters, of mercenaries taking outrageous amounts of money from their passengers, of ramshackle boats that too often capsize, of the bodies floating in the sea.

Now, the lifeless body of that wee child forced those around the world to see the reality of the horrendous situation. Even Aylan's photographer - Nilufer Demir of Turkey's Dogan News Agency - was shattered and anguished over what she could ethically do when she and other photographers and journalists came upon the scattered corpses of the fleeing refugees.

Rick Hillier

Rick Hillier

Her response came from her heart as she peered through her camera's viewfinder and pushed down on the shutter, Demir realized her only decent response to Aylin's death would be to honour him with her photographic skills. "This is the only way I can express the scream of his silent body," she told fellow journalists.

That photographic scream jolted the world into action.

Desperate to do something, we turned to our leaders. Beloved Pope Francis came through, imploring European parishes to each take in one refugee family. The Vatican is taking in two families.

Canada's politicians, however, were another matter. Suddenly, the refugee situation hijacked the stumbling federal election campaign.

Handcuffed to the "Speak only from the Tories' message handbook" guideline, Chris Alexander, the minister of citizenship and immigration, delivered a sterile, glacier-cold response.

Add Prime Minister Harper's fear mongering, saying he is worried about terrorists masquerading as refugees and his seemingly not responding to Canadians' passionate request our country take immediate action to bring Syrians to Canada.

Like most whose genealogical roots are not totally Aboriginal, I have a personal bias when it comes to refugees.

Ancestors on my father's side fled the starvation of Ireland's famine as potato blight left stomachs empty and filled cemeteries with a million graves. Yes, Canada welcomed my folk. The country needed people to till the empty prairies.

Ironically, my ancestors were mainly artists and writers. Maybe, looking to their kitchen gardens, they embellished their agriculture prowess.

On my maternal side, my bloodline wandered down to the United States. My too-many-greats-to-count grandfather left Scotland and made his home in Rhode Island. He fell in love with a Jewish woman. When the American Revolution broke out, my ancestor and his new wife declared themselves United Empire Loyalists - their status was proven - and fled to the Maritimes.

Again Canada welcomed them.

Canada did not always open its borders to Jews.

SENDING THEM BACK

In 1939, the transatlantic liner St. Louis made its way to Canada's shores with 907 Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler on board. The then-immigration minister Fredrick Blair refused to let them in. The ship sailed back to Europe.

Hitler slaughtered 254 of those Jewish immigrants in his concentration camps.

As a human being, my heart knows my country grows strong when its population is a mosaic. My university classes include students of a multitude of ethnicities. They bring a diversity of perceptions. I learn from them.

Canadians are raising their voices to our politicians demanding they act to expedite procedures to bring Syrian refugees to Canada.

GUTS AND HEART

Former Progressive Conservative senator Pat Carney recently told her fellow PCs, "Act from your guts and your heart." She wants 100,000 Syrian refugees to be allowed into Canada "immediately."

Rick Hillier, Canada's former chief of defence staff, said the army could "realistically" bring in at least 50,000 Syrian refugees over the next three months.

(Lasha Morningstar lasha@wcr.ab.ca)