On a recent trip to Canada I had the chance to visit the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, where I learned a ton I hadn’t expected about both what’s going on in my own continent and stuff that’s gone on in others. Here’s a look at how something so far from home taught me some hard home truths.

1. We still haven’t learned from our mistakes.

“All people, regardless of citizenship, deserve the right to safety and security.” — Dr Jodi Giesbrecht, CMHR Manager of Research & Curation

Today in Europe we are witnessing a huge wave of migration, the greatest number of people on the move since the Second World War. That’s the greatest number of people fleeing across countries in 70 years. In those 70 years we haven’t really learned too much – as a whole, there is still a good ol’ fashioned helping of xenophobia sweeping the continent. Sure, we’re no longer antisemitic, but we’re not shy to host anti-Islamic protests or to blame this religious group for just about anything. See here, here and here.

In the 1940s, there was a huge wave of antisemitism that swept not just continents, but the world. This wide-spread prejudice led to the refusal of Jewish refugees into Canada and limited acceptance to GB and the US. According to Amnesty International, the UK has resettled just 216 Syrian refugees since January 2014. Over the next five years, David Cameron is allowing a mere 20,000 Syrian refugees onto British soil. Same, same but different – ammirite?

2. We can do more.

“[the museum] points to the responsibilities of citizenship and our obligation to protect the rights of those in other countries who lack safety and security.” — Dr Jodie Giesbrecht

Between 1915 – 1917, the years of the Armenian Genocide, Turks hid Armenians in their homes, away from torture of the Ottoman Empire and risking their own death. During this time, Kurds would also follow the deportation convoys of Armenians and would save as many people as they could – mothers would often give their children to Turkish and Kurdish families to save them from death.

During WWII, non-Jewish people consistently hid Jews in their homes, smuggled children out of ghettos and spoke out against Nazi regime, all whilst causing danger to their own lives.

Policemen rescued families by pretending to take them to execution during the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, risking their lives in doing so.

The list goes on.

Right now, in 2015, sending money to charities who support and aid refugees will not end in death by totalitarian governments. Neither will protesting or letting people into our homes and neither will volunteering with the International Rescue Committee. There really is no excuse not to help, when those who have helped before us had ‘nothing’ to give but gave everything.

3. We need to stop believing the hype.

“[we] aim to inspire action by pointing to Canada’s history as a nation of immigrants and refugees, highlighting the positive ways Canada has responded to refugee crises as well as occasions when Canada failed to respond and the tragic consequences that ensued.” — Dr Jodie Giesbrecht

Due to the mass wave of anti-Islamic prejudice across Europe, the belief that there is not enough space for refugees within Europe and that allowing refugees into our countries will mean loss of jobs and a spike in government spending, there is an overwhelming opinion that borders should be closed or capped.

Huffington Post reported that:

  • 55% of the French population are opposed to increasing the number of refugees the nation accepts.
  • Denmark has gone out of its way to create propaganda in Lebonese media discouraging movement to the country.
  • The Slovakian Prime Minister, Robert Fico, has taken it upon himself to speak for refugees arriving in Europe and has said that, “…they do not want to stay in Slovakia. They don’t have a base for their religion here, their relatives, they would run away anyway.”
  • A recent poll in the Czech Republic found that a staggering 94% of Czechs believe the EU should deport all refugees.
  • Hungary would rather see refugees bypass their country and carry on west, as well as invoking strong opinions about the rising presence of Islam in Europe. The Prime Minister, Viktor Orban said, “Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian?”

To put things into perspective, Germany have opened borders and are expecting to receive up to 1 million people seeking refuge within the coming 12 months. That number is equivalent to just 1.2 percent of its current population.

According to In a Nutshell, if Europe accepted all 4 million refugees trying to cross our borders, and all 4 million of those people were Muslim, our current Islamic continental population would rise just 1% – from 4% to 5%. “A Muslim minority is neither new, or reason to be afraid.” Watch the video here, to learn more about the many misconceptions about accepting refugees into Europe.

4. In spite of everything, there are still good people out there.

“[we] also aim to show what individuals and organisations can do to give shelter to those seeking refuge from war, conflict or catastrophe, in order to show that everyday actions can count.”

Fortunately, there are still people out there who are fighting for the rights of our fellow human beings. Take Izzeldin Abuelaish for example, a man whose story is explored in the Rights Today Gallery at the CMHR. Despite being raised in a Gaza refugee camp, he overcame poverty and violence and became a physician in Toronto. His two daughters were then killed by an Israeli bomb, yet he is still a passionate advocate for peace saying, “I would not give in to hatred — it is a destructive disease we need to treat as a public health issue.”

During the recent refugee crisis, European citizens have stepped up to the mark and shown a heart-exploding amount of compassion. From AirBnB-esque websites being set up for refugees to people buying boats to save people drifting in the Med. Pope Francis opened up the Vatican and 10,000 Icelanders offered their homes to refugees after the Government said they would take in just 50 people. Read more good-will stories here, then sit down and figure out what you can do to help.

This article was produced in partnership with Travel Manitoba.

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