Photo: flickr/ Stephen Harper

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The claim: To stop the flow of refugees, Canada must engage in military action to stop ISIS

This favoured trope of Stephen Harper and Chris Alexander is getting a lot of airtime. Is it true? How much of the current refugee crisis has been caused by ISIS?

The al-Assad family has been in control since the 1970s. Beginning in 2006, four year of devastating drought left 800,000 Syrians with nothing. Many of these people fled to the cities where there were already one million Iraqi refugees and 250,000 Palestinian refugees. The internally displaced Syrians agitated for Assad’s government help and the basis of the 2011 Syrian civil war took form.

ISIS emerged in April 2013 and has taken hold in parts of Syria that are “rebel-controlled,” that is, controlled by the groups fighting the Assad regime. ISIS-controlled areas are mostly in Northern Syria including some towns along the Syria-Turkey border and along the Iraq border.

So, while there are certainly Syrians fleeing from ISIS-controlled parts of Syria, it can’t be said that ISIS is the primary reason for why there are so many Syrian refugees. And, while 29,100 Syrians sought refuge in Europe from January-March, 2015, they’re hardly alone. In the same period, nearly 50,000 people from Kosovo also sought refuge, as well as 12,900 Afghanis. Both countries have been sites of Canadian military intervention.

Starting in June 1999, the Canadian military was part of the NATO-led campaign in Kosovo, leading to the creation of the country. Canadian soldiers are there now training security forces. Last year, Canada announced they were encouraging Canadian businesses to invest through the Kosovo-Canada Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement. Kosovo is the poorest country in Europe.

Kosovo has the largest number of people leaving to fight with ISIS, per capita, in Europe.

Canadian troops fought in Afghanistan for a decade. In the aftermath of the withdrawal of Western troops, it remains unclear how Afghanistan will fare with the military economy (and humanitarian industrial complex), gone. The last time a foreign force pulled out of the country, it descended into civil war. Since troop withdrawal, Afghanistan has had record opium crops, fuelling the international drug market. This has been accompanied in a rise in heroin overdoses in the U.K.

And, it’s important to remember that more Canadian soldiers are now dying from suicide than who were killed in combat. 

The causes and effects of global conflict, and the current refugee crisis in Europe are complex, and opening up borders to resettle refugees would help thousands. Must Canada bomb ISIS to stop these folks from becoming refugees in the first place? History would suggest that a humanitarian crisis requires a humanitarian solution.

Canada’s past military campaigns have contributed to the current refugee crisis too, probably more so than ISIS, considering that they have only operated for two years.


Photo: flickr/ Stephen Harper

Nora Loreto

Nora Loreto is a writer, musician and activist based in Québec City. She is the author of From Demonized to Organized, Building the New Union Movement and is the editor of the Canadian Association...