Abdullah Kurdi may not be a name that is instantly familiar to you. But the world is tragically all too acquainted with the picture of his three-year-old son, Aylan – lying face down in the sand and the incoming tide as a Turkish soldier helplessly stands beside his tiny lifeless body.
It was an image that shocked a complacent world into outrage. Suddenly the atrocities playing out on our nightly news became more than sound bites and updates from a situation that was a world away. We were shaken to the core as we felt a fragment of Abdullah’s horror and heartbreak at the loss of his baby son…indeed, his entire, young family.
It seems that every day there is a new story of loss and heartbreak, and many of us struggle to understand why and how, what can only be described as the greatest human tragedy in living history, is happening on our doorstep.
In the past five years of Syria’s brutal civil war, together with attacks from ISIS have resulted in over 500,000 deaths and over half the population (some 11 million) fleeing their homes. These figures don’t even take into account the other countries including Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan where many have also been forced to leave all they once knew and loved in search for sanctuary and survival. The UNHCR estimate that the number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people worldwide has, for the first time in the post World War 2 era, exceeded 50 million people.
For most, the response is one of compassion and frustration as they watch wondering how to help their neighbours who are in such obvious distress. Others respond with cynicism and suspicion – feeling aggrieved that those seeking safety are simply just economic scroungers who want to come to the UK to take advantage. They fail to realise that losing loved ones in a war zone and having to run for your life is traumatic and leaving everything you know and love is not something that is done lightly or with a mercenary mind-set. For the parents like Abdullah, putting what was most precious to them – their children – on a dinghy to cross a dangerous stretch of water was an act of great love. What perils lay ahead were vastly preferable to the dangers they were desperately escaping from.
With millions of people now forced to live in makeshift camps across Europe, the situation remains desperate. Human Traffickers are amongst those taking advantage of vulnerable people and seeking to exploit children who are alone without their family to protect them. Europol estimate that to date, since coming to Europe, over 10,000 children fleeing war and persecution have disappeared – likely falling into the hands of these trafficking syndicates.
Something that strikes me again and again throughout this crisis is: ‘I wonder what our grandchildren will think of our response to this tragedy?’. Many times as I sat in history class and read about the Holocaust, I wondered how on earth my grandparents generation had not responded to Hitler’s ominous march across Europe far sooner. How those living in Germany and Poland near the camps had not risen up in revolt and anger over the atrocities that were taking place on their doorstep.
Now that my generation is faced with this immense human tragedy, my hope is that we will tell a different story for the history books. A story changed for the better because of all we learned from the inhumanity of the Holocaust and situations like it. My hope is that the next generation will learn of how we responded with love and compassion in the face of evil and did not stand idly by thinking it had nothing to do with us. In the still true words of Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing.”
It’s inevitable that newsreels will gradually show less and less of the plight of these millions of displaced people – our neighbours in need. And many people here in the UK will begin to feel saturated and jaded with the sheer volume of human suffering playing out on our TV’s.
But it’s important to understand that we can respond. We can change the course of history, and we can offer hope and love to those who have lost hope along with their homes and loved ones.
I work for a project called ‘For Refugees’ and we are working in collaboration with the Home Office and many churches and organisations around the UK to play a lead role in welcoming and helping refugees to rebuild their lives. (The commitment of the UK government is to resettle at least 20,000 people from refugee camps over the next five years). We would love for you to get involved in our network – whether you are an individual, a church or an organisation – you have a key part to play.
Whether it’s teaching English, fostering or mentoring a lone young refugee, giving financially or providing welcome boxes for refugees arriving in your community there is so much we can each do to make a significant and lasting difference. If you’d like to find out more about how you can get involved or would like to know more about organisations in your area who are responding I’d love to hear from you! Just drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org or take a look at our website: forrefugees.uk