A volunteer serves food to a woman April 10 at a center run by the Melkite Catholic Church in Damascus, Syria. A delegation from the Catholic Near East Welfare Association visited Iraqi refugees at the center. CNS photo/Gabriel Delmonaco, CNEWA

Think long term

  • April 9, 2015

By extending and expanding its military mission in Iraq, Ottawa has recommitted to being an active player in helping to stop the Islamic State. The cause to defend innocent victims is just, and Canada should be involved. But that involvement must go beyond a military contribution.

Iraq and Syria need a return to peace but peace is impossible without stopping the Islamic State and its para-military quest to wipe out opponents and spread its murderous ideology to other countries. Beyond that, however, there is a crying need for immediate humanitarian aid in the region, as well as formulation of a long-term strategy to rebuild these shattered nations.

The situation in Syria is particularly dire.  That country’s civil war is entering its fifth year. What began as Arab Spring protests to oust President Bashar Al-Assad devolved into factional fighting that has left 220,000 people dead, according to the United Nations. In addition, 7.7 million people (of a total population of 23 million) have been displaced, including 3.7 million registered refugees mostly sheltering in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. The injection of Islamic State savagery in 2012 has escalated the bloodletting, and made constant targets of the region’s Christian minority.

From Syria, a humanitarian crisis has spilled across several borders. Neighbouring nations are being swamped by waves of homeless, hungry families that continue to flee the fighting. These refugees have an urgent need for food, clean water, clothing, housing and health care. Several nations, including Canada, are providing aid that is being distributed through many charitable agencies — including Development and Peace, Aid to the Church in Need and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association — but much more is needed.

If it is going to widen the mission of its fighter jets, Canada must also expand its contributions to humanitarian aid and make a commitment to long-term development in the region. It is insufficient to do one without the other.

In the short term, that means Ottawa should immediately bump up a $50-million pledge for humanitarian aid it made in January, and it should also accept dramatically more than the 11,300 Syrian refugees it has pledged to resettle here by 2017.

When it dropped its first bomb in Iraq (and now in Syria), Canada took on an obligation to become a partner in finding ways to comfort the innocent victims of war and, eventually, help them return in peace to their homes. Some day, assuming peace can be found and the complex issue of the Syrian dictator can be resolved, that obligation will also entail a long-term commitment to help rebuild infrastructure and restore public institutions.

Having expanded its role in the fighting, Parliament should do no less now than expand its commitment to help these suffering people in all ways possible.

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