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"The frosty little town of Gander - away up north in Newfoundland, Canada - welcomed 18 Syrian refugees in 62 days. That’s 150 percent more than the whole of the US accepted in twice that time." (Photo: Getty Images)

"The frosty little town of Gander - away up north in Newfoundland, Canada - welcomed 18 Syrian refugees in 62 days. That’s 150 percent more than the whole of the US accepted in twice that time." (Photo: Getty Images)

For the Many Millions Spent on Bombing Syria, The US Could Have Assisted Syrian Refugees by the Thousands

As those who have offered shelter and assistance to victims of war have said, "We were just doing what our mothers taught us."

Pat LaMarche

Last week the U.S. fired 118 missiles at Syria: that’s about 11 times as many missiles as refugees the U.S accepted from the war torn nation since January first.

The 2018 cost per missile: $1,400,000.

The 2018 estimated cost per refugee: $15,900.

I know the math is hard, but hang on. The U.S. spent $119.1 million just on the ordnance dropped on Syria—not counting the cost of keeping all those missile delivery systems in place. Aircraft carriers don’t pay for themselves, you know. And each B-1B Lancer fighter jet used to convey some of the missiles to their targets cost $95,000 per flight hour. Heck, two hours flying time pays for all the Syrian refugees accepted into the U.S. this year.

Rejecting Syrians is clearly not about the cost to the taxpayer. The US could permanently relocate thousands of them for the cost of last week’s light show.

The frosty little town of Gander—way up north in Newfoundland, Canada—welcomed 18 Syrian refugees in 62 days. That’s 150 percent more than the whole of the US accepted in twice that time. Gander’s generosity is impressive. But it’s no where near their record for helping displaced persons. See, on September 11, 2001, Gander rescued nearly 7000 refugees from terrorist bombings in New York City and Washington D.C.

If you’re a Broadway Show fan then you’ve likely heard of the smash hit, Come From Away. It’s supposed to be a pretty good show. Countless newspapers and magazines have dubbed it, “Best of the Year.”  Broadway Reviews Critics rated it an "8"—that’s darn impressive seeing as they only gave Les Miserables a "7.7." The play tells the story of what happened when thousands of frightened, weary, grieving passengers were forced into a foreign country because bad guys attacked their homeland. Many of these tempest tossed souls lost loved ones in the attacks. And like the rest of the world, they had little or no idea if the violence had ended. They couldn’t get home to protect their loved ones—they couldn’t even access their luggage to get a change of clothes.

Diane Davis, one of the heroes immortalized in Come From Away, spoke this week about Gander’s generous spirit toward innocent folks forced from their homes by violence and war. When Davis learned that 38 planes would be landing and deplaning 6800 passengers—indefinitely—she and others set to work providing shelter, food, clothing and bedding to the refugees of the attacks. Davis sees no difference in the humanity of the 9/11 refugees and those fleeing the war in Syria. Davis explained that the people that landed in Gander in September of 2001 didn’t know they were refugees: “In effect, I don’t think anyone knows they are refugees in the first day of war or the first week.” The grounded passengers on 9/11 needed safety, shelter, food, and medication, and people of Gander provided it all.

Davis knew the events surrounding the bombings of the World Trade Center, The Pentagon, and downed Flight 93 were remarkable, but she didn’t think she and her friends who gave refuge to those impacted by the attack were the remarkable part. Davis explained that shortly before seeing Come From Away performed in Gander she attended a dinner for first responders and community organizers from 2001. Davis looked around and realized she sat in a room with fellow members of the Gander Refugee Outreach committee for the resettlement of Syrian families. It was at that moment, just a year and a half ago, that Davis realized her community made a habit of caring deeply for all people—deeply enough to open their lives to others in need—regardless of race or national origin.

Gander is now home to four Syrian families. The dads are all working minimum wage jobs that don’t tax their still limited English skills. Minimum wage in Labrador is $11/hour, so the families can afford to live modest lives. The children are enrolled in school and have become fluent in English. Davis says that the experience has enriched the lives of the hosts as well as the lives of the refugees. And a few months ago, one of the mommas gave birth to the first natural born Canadian of the new Syrian community in Gander.

Davis and the Gander Refugee Outreach committee are waiting on the fifth Syrian family to arrive. They’re working to build the community because they want their new friends to stay. They’ve welcomed the refugees into their lives but respect that it can be isolating to be too far from the culture and language of one’s youth. And just like the thousands of frightened people they hosted on 9/11, the people of Gander know the Syrians are worried about their home.

Still, at the end of the day, Davis doesn’t think what they’re doing in Gander is all that remarkable. What Davis said about 9/11 is true for their efforts to relocate their newest refugees, “We were just doing what our mothers taught us.”

Where Canadian mothers all that different from those in the U.S.?  What’s stopping the U.S. from doing the same?


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche is an author, activist and advocate. She is the author of "Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States" (Updated, 2020). Her novel, "The Magic Diary" (2019) is now available.

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