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Professor Kyle Killian, Centre for Refugee Studies: Boat people are rarely welcomed anywhere

Professor Kyle Killian, Centre for Refugee Studies: Boat people are rarely welcomed anywhere

Canada's first boat people were the Norse who came ashore a thousand years ago in Newfoundland. They fit the refugee pattern: farmers and simple artisans, maybe a few fierce Vikings among them known for terrorizing Europe, people driven out of their homeland by population pressures and political unrest, wrote The Globe and Mail Aug. 14:

The great boat-people success story in Canada, of course, has been the refugees from Indochina – the Vietnamese, Vietnamese Chinese, Lao and Kampucheans who now number a quarter of a million people, most of them originally sponsored in the late 1970s and early 1980s by church and community groups with federal government assistance after the US-supported South Vietnamese government fell to the North Vietnamese communists. Most of the refugees were highly educated professionals who fit quickly into Canadian society.

Similarly, the so-called Mariel boatlift of 130,000 Cubans to the United States over a few short months of 1980 transformed Miami.

But Professor Kyle Killian of York University's Centre for Refugee Studies says boat people are rarely welcomed anywhere, even in Canada.

"First, they have been displaced as a result of a conflict elsewhere in the world, and therefore are often deemed as ‘someone else's problem’.

“Second, they have been displaced often as a result of an armed conflict with another ethnic community. And as history is written by the victors, representatives of the ethnic community who displaced the boat people are often quick to sound an alarm about the supposed inherent dangers that the boat people represent. These attempts at negative public relations can be successful because they activate xenophobic responses in citizens of the prospective host country.

“Third, it has long been established in social psychological research – the ‘bystander’ studies – that human beings tend to be more helpful to persons in need when they are perceived as attractive and possess characteristics similar to bystanders."

The complete article is available on the Globe's Website.

Republished courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.