Billboard Welcoming Syrian Refugees Makes America Look Bad

A billboard with a Canadian flag says "We Welcome Syrian Refugees with open hearts and minds."

A Syrian refugee looks up as her father holds her and a Canadian flag as they arrive at Pearson Toronto International Airport in Mississauga, Ontario, December 18, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch - RTX1ZBYD — REUTERS
Feb 22, 2016 at 4:19 PM ET

America’s friendly northern neighbor is making us look bad—again.

A photo of a billboard welcoming Syrian refugees with a Canadian flag has spread quickly among online migrant communities, as a symbol of much-needed friendliness. For the masses of people displaced by Syria’s bloody civil war, leaving their home country is often just the beginning; many go on to face discrimination and hardship in the countries where they end up.

The photo shows a sign that reads “We Welcome Syrian Refugees with open hearts and minds.” Underneath it says, “Hello to Syrian refugees in Canada” in Arabic. The image started circulating on February 20 and was shared by dozens of Twitter accounts and refugee Facebook groups across Europe, Jordan, Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries. It garnered over 1,000 likes and comments by asylum seekers, many of whom wrote they desperately wanted to relocate to Canada, a Vocativ social media analysis found.

“Guys, Where in Lebanon can I apply for a shelter in Canada?” one commenter wrote in a Facebook group for Syrian asylum seekers. “Wish we could see this sign in any Arabic country,” another commenter wrote on a different Facebook group. Dozens of similar comments expressed similar goals across Facebook and Twitter.

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The billboard shows the Canadian flag and the Syrian revolutionary flag fit together like puzzle pieces. The Syrian flag on the sign is not the one the Syrian government uses and the one the United Nations officially recognizes, but rather, the flag the government’s opposition adopted in 2012.

The sign seems to be around Ontario (we can’t verify its exact location, but it features the logo of a radio station from a small town in that province), and is inspiring dozens of refugees who recently entered Europe to anti-refugee sentiment and confusion. Hundreds of refugees have gotten stuck in bottlenecks on their perilous journey from Syria to Turkey through Europe trying to make their way to Germany, which took in more than 1 million asylum seekers in 2015. The influx has caused outrage by anti-refugee activists. In Saxony, Germany this weekend, an angry drunken mob burned down a refugee shelter that housed up to 3,900 asylum seekers. A bus hauling Syrian refugees arrived in Germany last week to a crowd chanting, “go home!” in English that tried to keep the refugees from getting off the bus.

The Canadian government’s message appears to be a stark contrast to the one refugees are experiencing in Germany. Canada has said it would resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by February 29, 2016, and video footage of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcoming the first Syrian families to the country was hailed last month as the message refugees needed.

The United States promised to accept 10,000 refugees last September. In the six months since, we’ve taken 841.