COLUMN: There is room here for you!

George Esser

A few years ago I visited the Pier 21 museum in Halifax, which was the main port at which European immigrants came to Canada, including my mother and paternal grandfather.

Being at the very spot my family arrived left me deeply moved by the help and generosity of the Canadian people. One of the displays had a recording of an officer receiving people from the ships. He said: “Welcome to Canada! There is room here for you!” The display portrayed the anxiety and uncertainty immigrants must have felt and I am sure his ‘welcome’ meant a lot to them.

Many of us Canadians are second and third generation immigrants, which was made possible because of the generosity of the Canadian people. Both my grandfathers came to Canada because of situations arising from the World Wars in Europe. I believe the wave of immigrants experienced at that time helped to make Canada the great nation that it is.

The refugees coming from Syria should be welcomed in the same spirit as those immigrants. In the 1950s, Pier 21 welcomed an average of 45,000 per year, almost twice as many as the 25,000 Syrian refugees we plan to bring here now. We do have room for them and the only thing stopping us is fear; fear of “not enough” for us and fear of many (or some) of them being ISIS radicals.

These people are coming to Canada to flee from a desperate situation, and history has proven that pre-judging people never works well. We need to stop seeing them as Syrian refugees, but as new Canadians. Canada is a great mosaic of people and these newcomers will contribute positively to that mosaic if we accept them as part of our Canadian makeup and welcome them with open arms. Love and acceptance will go much farther to world stability than fear and aggression.

Syria is a secular state with approximately 90% who say they are Muslim. The majority of Americans say they are Christian. The vast majority of Muslims and Christians are good people and both groups really don’t practice their faith much beyond having a belief.

Problems can arise when you get extremists, whether religious or political. If we bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees, there will be a percentage of them that are criminals, just as if you took a random survey of 25,000 Canadians there would also be a percentage of Canadian criminals. So as far as I can see they will fit right in.

Welcome to Canada Syrians and other pre-Canadians. There is room for you.

George Esser is the pastor of River City Vineyard in Sarnia