Take a look at the picture above.
How does it make you feel? Does it make you feel sad? Angry, perhaps? Does it make you want to jump in, grasp hold of the limp little body and mourn for a life taken too soon? Maybe it makes you think about your own children? The thought of them lying face down and motionless on the shoreline too unbearable to even contemplate. As we look a little closer at the heart-wrenching image that has stirred the conscience of a nation, we find ourselves questioning how something so terrible could happen in this day and age? And yet, the washed up dark-haired toddler – in his bright red t-shirt and shorts – is not an isolated case. He is only one of the several million Syrian refugees to have fled across the border in a bid for a better life.
Dying to be saved
The tiny washed up body is thought to belong to three-year-old Aylan Kurdi. Aylan – alongside his parents and 5-year-old brother – were making the treacherous journey across Turkey to Europe in the hope of joining family members on the other side. Their asylum application had been rejected, and therefore, with limited options, they had plans to travel to Canada to stay with a relative. Sadly, the boat carrying them to the Greek Island of Kos overturned and despite his father’s desperate attempts to hold his family with his arm, one after the other they were washed away by waves. They were just a few of at least 12 Syrians who drowned attempting to reach the Greek island of Kos that day, endeavouring to flee Syria in search of a better life.
It is reported that there were two overcrowded boats – carrying a total of 23 people – that set off from the Akyarlar area of the Bodrum peninsula. Both boats capsized in calm waters due to excess numbers. 5 children and a woman were reported dead. Others were rescued or had made it to the shore wearing lifejackets. Aylan wasn’t so lucky. His lifeless body was found in the town of Bodrum, Turkey, a place where my husband and I had recently holidayed, taking the same waters from Bodrum harbour to the Island of Kos. I wondered how I would feel if I had seen the horrific sights those holiday makers had seen that day. An image, even as outsiders, we find hard to shake from our heads.
Within minutes of the Turkish press releasing the distressing image of the Syrian boy lying face-down on a beach, it swiftly began to circulate around the world, going viral and becoming the top trending picture on twitter under the #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik (“humanity washed ashore”) hashtag.
Syria was already at war when Aylan was born. Shockingly, more than a million Syrian children are refugees living in the comparable circumstances that drove this poor family to risk their own lives. The grim reality is that thousands of Syrians are making the same journey from Turkey to Greece’s easternmost islands each day. In fact, it has been reported that a staggering 2,500 migrants have died or gone missing this year alone while trying to reach Europe, many risking their lives by resorting to ‘unseaworthy’ vessels arranged by unscrupulous people traffickers. The route between Turkey and Greece is considered one of the safest to Europe and beyond, but even so, it has been a journey in which thousands of lives have been lost.
So why do so many take the risk?
When it is almost impossible to exit the country unless you have a passport – which very few migrants do – they are left with two options: They can either make the perilous journey across the border or they can remain incarcerated to a life inside the refugee camp in a war-torn country controlled by Islamic fundamentalists.
What would you do?
Would you seek normalcy in the mud-floored, makeshift shelters? Could you call them a home while you waited long-sufferingly for the day your country decided to stitch itself back together? Or would you – like many Syrians who had fled their war-torn country – try to escape the cramped and unpleasant conditions of UN-run camps, in which women are said to be at risk and teenage boys are being recruited as soldiers to fight in the conflict?
Existing or living?
Suffering or potential freedom?
To an outsider, this may seem like a simple choice but sadly simplicity doesn’t even enter the equation. The risks on the journey to the border can be as high as staying; to avoid being shot at by snipers or being kidnapped by soldiers, families will often walk miles through the darkness of the night. When they reach the borders, they again, have to risk their lives by taking the precarious trip across waters in makeshift rubber dinghies or flimsy inflatable boats. Most Syrians can’t swim and yet the organisers are putting them in charge of these cheaply-crafted boats with little to no knowledge of tides, currents and safety procedures. More shockingly, most of the people boarding these boats are minus a lifejacket. Is there any wonder why so many don’t make it?
And yet, the only other option is to stay in this dusty makeshift world of lost childhoods, diminishing potentials and shattered dreams. A world in which hope is nothing but an impossible notion. A world in which sexual violence and rape are a normalcy. A world in which children carry weight upon their shoulders.
A world so desperate, families will do anything to get their hands on basic amenities.
A world so tired, it has given up faith that their situations can flourish.
A world plagued by memories of trauma, conflict and war.
Is this a world you would want your children to grow up in?
It’s clear to see why thousands of refugees take extraordinary measures in a quest for a better life.
And the most devastating thing of all…is the lack of compassion and understanding these people are greeted with after experiencing such an ordeal. As European leaders increasingly try to prevent refugees from settling in the continent, more and more refugees are dying in their desperation to flee persecution and reach safety. Europe’s ‘shut the door’ attitude to migrants have left thousands of vulnerable people in situations that are even more hopeless and degrading than the ones that prompted them to flee. What happened to welcoming people fleeing persecution and war? What happened to empathy and humanity?
How have our minds become so warped into believing that migrants do not deserve the same rights as us ‘non-immigrants’ do?
The relentless anti-migrant propaganda splashed over the front pages of our most popular newspapers, doesn’t help matters. Quite the opposite, in fact. In the UK, The Daily Mail, Sun and Mirror – to name a few – have all dragged migrants through the mud time and time again. They have been demonising and dehumanising refugees and migrants for years. The Daily Mail, particularly, likes to use scaremongering tactics at every given opportunity. Whether it’s inundating us with staggering figures, scaring us with horror stories of migrants behaving badly or flooding our front pages with threats of immigration domination.
I mean, why should we like them? They sponge off our benefits system. They take our jobs and houses. They are violent and aggressive. And those are just a few of the belittling and exaggerated headlines to hit front page news.
And then, of course, as if these poor people haven’t been shamed and humiliated enough. Z-list Celebrity and Sun columnist, Katie Hopkins, throws in her unsolicited views, saying; “No, I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care.” I don’t know what is most shocking; her frozen-hearted words or the fact that a national paper permitted this dehumanising drivel to be printed in our papers?
Comfortably numb or comfortably ignorant?
Have we become comfortably numb to the pain and suffering that has dominated our TV screens and the media our entire lives? The emaciated bodies of starving children, the desperate cries of third world suffering, the pleas of help from stranded refugees? I mean, we’ve seen it all before; the exploding buildings, war-torn countries and people living in squalor – We become numb to it. Suffering becomes nothing but a background noise. A blur of colours in the corner of our vision. We no longer see people as people we see them as just another sad statistic.
But just as the world appeared to have closed its eyes, mind and heart…
The powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach hit the headlines.
Suddenly humanity surfaces from the sea it has been submerged in for so long. Our eyes are open and we are listening, watching and we care. Who was this boy and what was his story? Wait a minute… you mean there are several thousands of people in similar situations? Hang on, did you say millions? Our cloak of ignorance drops to the floor.
The extraordinary powerful image of the drowned little boy has sparked an international outcry over the human cost of a crisis that has been getting progressively worse over time. I guess it’s easy to forget the exact numbers of those who lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean, but it’s hard not to grieve the loss of a little boy in a red t-shirt. A little boy who could have been our own precious child. Wednesday’s heartbreaking event has put a human face on a tragedy that has, until now, merely been viewed as statistics on a page. The poignant picture has stirred up a conscience inside us all. It has touched our hearts, minds and opened our eyes to what the world really looks like when humanity fails.
When humanity builds razor-wired fences and block trains to keep refugees from trespassing. When humanity denies refugees of food and shelter. When humanity drags refugees from trains and scribe registration numbers, in permanent marker, on their arms just like those of a concentration camp prisoner. Is this what humanity looks like?
Tragically, it has taken a picture of three-year-old washed up boy on a beach for us to humanise what has been happening for years. Thus, a backlash of backtrackers begin to emerge with their tails between their legs. Newspapers that had one week previously shamed and shunned immigrants have suddenly found compassion in their hearts; a drastic change to their previous splashes and editorials. Oh, the hypocrisy; It pours from their every word just as the tears do from their victims eyes.
Our Politicians are also backpedalling themselves out of deep water as they display a swift change in attitude towards refugees. The massive surge of support, fuelled by the horrific events of Last Wednesday, has now secured a debate in Parliament due to an online petition calling on the UK government to accept more refugee’s which had topped a staggering 100, 000 signature threshold. The UK refugee response is since ‘under review’ and the Prime Minister has now promised that the UK will fulfil its “moral responsibilities” to a crisis which has seen hundreds of thousands of people attempting to enter Europe from North Africa and the Middle East.
But why the change of heart?
Well, I guess for the same reason we had all opened our eyes.
Mr Cameron said: “As a father, I felt deeply moved by the sight of that young boy on a beach in Turkey.”
So isn’t it high time Europe took a full role in helping desperate people? Isn’t it about time we all did a little bit more?
If this tragic but iconic image cannot spark the world into action, what will?
This topic is one that is very close to my husband’s heart. In 2013, after experiencing first-hand the ordeals Syrian refugee’s go through, he set up a charity called, “Refugee Hope”. Here is his story… (In a nutshell)
I first travelled to the Syrian border in September 2013 and over the last three or so years have found myself there on numerous occasions. What I first witnessed three years ago was the same powerful image that Aylan left on the world last week. I met with people living in makeshift camps, without the bare essentials to live. Children were dying from malnutrition and preventable disease. One of the most lasting impressions that I was left with was how we as humans are allowing this to happen. This experience left a profound impact on my life and those around me. Over the last three years, some colleagues and I have been supporting some of the basic needs of refugees in the Middle East and now our organisation will continue to support by offering help to some of those who are fleeing. Please check out our Facebook Page and GoFundMe page gofundme.com/refugeehope