Never a Good Thing

  • National Newswatch

It's a mess, an unmitigated tragedy, and it's just one of the many reasons Canadians are having trouble focusing on a general election.  COVID, economic uncertainty, climate change, poverty, and now what appears to be a debacle in a nation far away – all unfolding developments that refuse to let up, despite our postponed desire to just get on with everyday life.The tragedy unfolding on our screens from Kabul airport in the last twenty-four hours has filled us with sadness, an encroaching fear, and too many questions to answer.  What will become of all the Afghan people seeking sanctuary?    What will be this country's role in helping to shape some kind of future for those many people making a bolt for freedom?The Canadian government has published its intention to receive 20,000 fleeing Afghans.  Other countries have responded in kind.   Canadian teams are being sent to those staging areas where those successful in escaping the chaos of Afghanistan seek shelter worldwide.  Britain, Greece, Albania, Uganda, even Kosovo have indicated their willingness to accept refugees.Iran is promising to open up settlements at the border regions in three of their provinces on the condition that Afghans will be “repatriated” once tensions ease.  The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has noted that Iran already houses 3.5 million Afghan refugees.Pakistan's response is even more pivotal, having deep and historical relations with Afghanistan's people, including its terrorist organizations.  Just three months ago, Pakistan officials said they would close their borders to any refugees should the Taliban seize control of the country.  That has now happened.  Pakistan has little patience to add to the three million Afghan refugees they already shelter in the country.  Significant efforts are underway to influence Pakistani leaders to be willing to open temporary shelters at the border between the two countries.Opposition parties in Turkey are pressing the government to accelerate the building of walls to stem the tide – something the president has promised to do.Australia has said “no” to a wave of Afghan refugees.  Both Austria and Switzerland have given the same response.The fallout from two decades in Afghanistan can't be contained to the region.  UN officials warn that a new humanitarian tsunami could be on the way, the consequences of which could divide the global community even further.  The labyrinthian nature of this impending disaster could prove overwhelming to the world's humanitarian system.Earlier this week, I met in Montreal with Paul Martin, former PM, and someone knowledgeable of the economic and humanitarian pressures on the modern world.  He noted that governing, financing, aiding, moving and guiding this present world is growing increasingly complex every day.  “Even collaborative efforts among nations doesn't hold the promise it once did,” he noted.He's right, and he's prescient.  With so many challenges descending on us at the exact same moment, the only possible way to overcome them is through the combined effort of humanity – its business sector, governments, NGOs, scientists, and citizens.  Looking out on this world at present, it is difficult to see how a task so vast can be engineered in a world already bitterly divided against itself.  Every new challenging development appears to expose our differences rather than summon our commonalities.“Knowing too much of your future is never a good thing,” wrote Rick Riordan and currently, millions of Canadians face global omens they find unsettling. It is why a sense of hopelessness is reaching frightening levels around the world.  Our politics must lead us in a better direction together, but election seasons are more about competition than cooperation.  Afghanistan is only the latest challenge to confront us, and it is an important one that can't be avoided, not matter how much we may seek to ignore it.Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario. He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario. He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 35 years. He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“. Follow him on twitter @GlenPearson.