We’ve closed our borders but we must not forget the less fortunate in other parts of the world

At the beginning of April, as President Trump banned 3M from exporting necessary masks to Canada, I couldn’t help but think about what it means to be truly isolationist.

Of course, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all been thinking about the question of isolation — of what it means to be alone — during this pandemic.

One of the main questions on all of our minds is how will we get through this? What will the world look like once we do overcome this pandemic? Will the world’s most vulnerable communities be able to adapt to the changing world? How can we help?

I think about what it means to share, and what it means to get through this.

I think about my friends and colleagues around the world. Those who are on the front line fighting this virus, and the many families who have been separated due to the grounding of thousands of airlines, my own family included.

As Canada closes our borders to protect the spread of COVID-19, we would do well to remember that a border closing cannot mean closing our hearts to those in other parts of the world who are far less equipped than we are at handling COVID-19.

Of course, as we all know, isolationist policies were a defining characteristic of early 20th century American foreign policy. When the League of Nations was attempting to pull together an international governance model, then American President, Woodrow Wilson, did not participate. It was not until war was on the doorstep of the United States after the Pearl Harbor attack that the United States geared up for war.

Isolationism is certainly not what we as Canadians seem to fall into. We are the nation that opened our borders to people fleeing from war, conflict and persecution. We are the nation that has been recognized globally for our commitment to peacekeeping and our pledge to protect. We recognize that the concept of the social contract is about more than me, myself and I. This is about supporting our global family.

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Canadians have distinguished ourselves in caring for our own. “Caremongering” became viral. From the Good Neighbour Project to organizations like Islamic Relief Canada, distributing aid kits across the country, to folks driving past hospitals to honk and cheer on their service providers, we have seen an incredible outpour of a Canadian response.

Now it is time to share these acts of kindness with parts of the world that need it most.

In Palestine, for instance, the head of the International Red Cross noted that Gaza, “is unable to absorb the impact of an aggressive pandemic like COVID-19”. That means that in a place like Gaza, which is currently under blockade, the spread of COVID-19 is nothing short of a catastrophe. In Syria and Yemen, in the context of refugee camps, the simple concept of physical distancing is a luxury.

I think about how COVID-19 has shown how the world is very small, but is not particularly equal.

How do you self-isolate when you live in a refugee camp with thousands of people? How do you wash your hands frequently, when you have no access to clean water? How do you join an online class, when your school was bombed?

The reality is that even though we are all suffering, and COVID-19 has put a massive strain on our jobs, our lives, our mental health, and our communities, we cannot forget that there are many around the world who are experiencing a far more challenging reality than we are.

It’s time for Canadians to put the question of imagined non-isolationism to bed. It’s time to make caremongering an international motto.

The integrity, livelihood and survival of the most at risk communities is who I am increasingly worried for. This concern is shared by my coworkers at Islamic Relief Canada and it drives us to push through this crisis.

Reyhana Patel is the Head of External Relations at Islamic Relief Canada.

Islamic Relief Canada is an international NGO committed to alleviating poverty in 30+ countries around the world.

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