In the early hours of September 2nd, a toddler drowned.
When three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body washed ashore, photographs of him face down in the sand went viral. The death of a child changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees – in the following days, Germany announced it would accept as many as 500,000 refugees a year, France would take in 24,000 refugees over two years, the UK would admit 20,000 over the next five, and the US would permit 10,000 each year. While this still wasn’t enough, it was getting there, and aid workers and refugee advocates began to hope for their charges.
Then, on the evening of November 13th, eight men launched a series of bombings and shootings across Paris, striking at a soccer stadium, a concert, and a restaurant. By the time the terrorist attacks ended, 129 civilians had been killed. On the ground, near the body of one of the suicide bombers, a Syrian passport identifying him as Ahmad Almohammad was found. Despite the fact that this document has been declared a forgery, and an identical one was discovered in the possession of a man in a Serbian refugee camp on Saturday, the backlash started immediately.
At the time I’m writing this, Poland has reneged on its promise to admit refugees, Hungary is suing the European Union over a mandatory plan to distribute refugees at its borders throughout the bloc, and 27 US states have declared they will refuse to admit any Syrian refugees. On November 17th, German authorities announced that more than 700 crimes have been committed against refugee shelters this year. Hours after the Paris attacks, the refugee camp in Calais caught fire in a case of suspected arson, and 40 shelters were destroyed.
Also on November 17th, at 8:30am local time, exactly two-and-a-half months after Alan Kurdi died, nine refugees drowned off the coast of Greece. Four of them were children. There won’t be any international outrage this time. These deaths won’t make the front page of any newspapers. And so, with children drowning every day, with more than 3,500 refugees perishing in attempts to cross the Mediterranean in 2015 alone, the world refuses to act.
Why do we now tolerate the deaths of children? Why have the deaths of people in Paris hardened us against the deaths of others? Why are we now filled not with sorrow, nor with a deep desire to help, but instead with bloodlust and vengeance? Why are we allowing hatred to rule us?
Bradley Burston wrote in Haaretz that “At a time when hatred is the proud guide of politics, the concept of ‘peace’ itself has become taboo, an artifact, a dirty word, uncool, counterproductive, condescending, or kitschy, or Kumbaya-grade pollyannish. We don’t go near it anymore, if only because the word makes the public suspicious or infuriated. And what about ‘love’? You must be kidding.”
Violence and isolationism are not the solution here.
Children are dying, trying to reach the safety we enjoy. Those lucky few who do make it are now being turned away at the border, told to go home by stern-faced men with towering riot shields and automatic rifles. The same sort of rifles these children were fleeing from in the first place.
Though they may not be firing those rifles, the border guards have blood on their hands nonetheless. We all do, if we sit in silent complacence while the West closes its borders, hunkers down against the flood of refugees begging for aid, for relief, for a safe haven. We must reach out, with peaceful intentions, with love in our hearts, and welcome refugees into our countries.
We have no right to turn them away. As I wrote in the days after Alan Kurdi’s death went viral, we are responsible for this crisis. The United States, the meddling, imperialist West, is responsible for the deaths and displacement of 11 million Syrians and 4 million Iraqis.
Even now, the only reaction the West can muster to the Paris attacks, to the bombings in Beirut and Baghdad, is more air strikes. More air strikes, more soldiers, more bombs and bullets and illegal detentions. More collateral damage. Already, 400 civilians have been killed by coalition forces since aerial operations began last summer.
Apparently, we can destabilize refugees’ countries, destroy their homes, and arm their oppressors, but we cannot take them in. We have no empathy, no regard for the four million people at our doorstep.
That’s four million people who made the conscious decision to pack their bags and leave their homes forever. Four million people who risked dangerous sea voyages, overcrowded, disease-ridden refugee camps, and the violent, vigilante Western right-wing because what they were fleeing from was more terrifying than any of that. Four million people who suffered a journey we will never experience, only to be turned away by self-righteous governors and officials.
How can we still claim to be enlightened, civilized, or in any way a moral force, when we refuse to heed the pleas of refugees out of some Western-centric, Islamophobic “necessity?” How can we turn away those who have seen Alan Kurdi’s body face down in the sand and decided they would rather risk that fate for their own children than stay in the hell we have created for them?
This is a plea, to any who read this, for some shred of humanity. People are dying. Will you be complicit?
The White House #AidRefugees campaign lists several ways to help on a local level here.
MoveOn.org has a petition that will be sent to Congress and the White House, which you can sign here.
The Today Show recommends the following list of charities if you want to help Syrian refugees:
As winter looms, aid organizations are appealing for extra assistance with relief efforts. You can help families and children by donating to these charities:
The UN Refugee Agency: Its winter plans include distributing sleeping bags, thermal blankets, raincoats, socks, clothes and footwear to the most vulnerable refugees. “Harsh weather conditions are likely to exacerbate the suffering of the thousands of refugees and migrants landing in Greece and travelling through the Balkans,” UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said.
Save the Children: Supplies food for Syrian kids and supports education in Syrian refugee camps.
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders: MSF is operating two rescue ships in the Mediterranean Sea that can carry hundreds of people to land.
Unicef: “Another bitter winter is beginning,” the organization warns. It delivers vaccines, winter clothes and food for children in Syria and neighboring countries.
International Rescue Committee: The group is in Greece, where thousands of people are arriving per day. Aid workers provide clean water and sanitation, and help new arrivals navigate the transit process and understand their legal rights.
World Food Programme: The agency says it is struggling to meet the urgent food needs of millions of displaced Syrians.
Mercy Corps: Refugees are most in need of clean water, sanitation services, temporary shelter and food, the agency says.
Aylan Kurdi & Syria’s Child Victims of War: A fund named after Aylan himself. Money goes to “Hand In Hand For Syria,” a U.K. based organization that works with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
CARE: As winter approaches, the biggest needs are warm blankets, clothes and proper shoes for migrants and refugees in Europe. The group also reaches Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Yemen and those displaced inside Syria with food, hygiene items and emergency cash.