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How Canada is putting the world to shame on Syrian refugees, in one paragraph

Syrian woman happily hugging Canadian woman
A Syrian refugee greets her sponsor in Nova Scotia.
Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press via AP
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

In most of the English-speaking world, the idea of taking in Syrian refugees is political poison. Fear of refugees fed into the anti-immigration climate that drove Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. Australia’s treatment of refugees is infamously harsh. In the United States, Donald Trump has proposed a ban on Muslims entering the country at all.

The exception is Canada, which had the opposite reaction to the refugee crisis — outrage not that Syrians might not enter the country but that they weren’t arriving fast enough. As the New York Times’s Jodi Kantor and Catrin Einhorn wrote:

The Toronto Star greeted the first planeload by splashing "Welcome to Canada" in English and Arabic across its front page. Eager sponsors toured local Middle Eastern supermarkets to learn what to buy and cook and used a toll-free hotline for instant Arabic translation. Impatient would-be sponsors — "an angry mob of do-gooders," The Star called them — have been seeking more families. The new government committed to taking in 25,000 Syrian refugees and then raised the total by tens of thousands.

Kantor and Einhorn raise plenty of caveats about what could go wrong, from Syrian refugees who turn out to be terrorists (although the screening process is thorough) to cultural clashes between refugees and their sponsors. But their deeply reported article, which follows three Syrian families and the Canadians who sponsor them, mostly found Canadians who are enthusiastic about helping immigrants settle into their new life and Syrians who are happy for the welcome.

If there’s tension, it springs from the sponsors being too eager to help — one Canadian woman helped the refugee she was sponsoring create a résumé and practice for a successful job interview at a Middle Eastern grocery store, the type of work he’d done before arriving in Canada. But the man eventually turned down the job, deciding he’d rather learn more English first and do different, more skilled labor in his new country. (Everyone involved was slightly annoyed, but mostly embarrassed and apologetic, a very Canadian reaction that suggests the refugees are integrating just fine.)

Kantor and Einhorn’s article is moving, nuanced, and very worth reading in full. It’s a hopeful narrative about how Canadians’ openness to newcomers ended up building deeper bonds not just between the refugees and sponsors but among the sponsors themselves.

It might even make non-Canadians feel like celebrating Canada Day. If it makes you want to move to Canada, though, my colleague Dara Lind has some bad news: Opening the country to Syrian refugees was accomplished, in part, by letting in fewer skilled economic migrants — including most Americans.

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