EXCLUSIVE TO THE MIDDLE EAST ONLINE . . . Refugee crisis: their suffering shames us all

By Pat Lancaster

How many more must suffer and die?
How many more must suffer and die?

Like most of the world, I was profoundly shocked by the image of three-year-old refugee Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on a beach in Turkey. I have a grandson fast approaching his third birthday and the image of that tiny body in a little red sweater, blue trousers and small black sandals, hit uncomfortably close to home.

The photograph, published by a Turkish news agency has now been viewed by millions of people across the world and has predictably caused a furore between those who feel it must be seen – in order to raise awareness of just what refugees are risking when they board these flimsy craft – and those who believe it was simply too distressing to be shown to the public at large. And yet it happened; Aylan is just one of many children, as well as men and women, to lose their lives in this way as our politicians argue and bicker over the extent of responsibilities and how they might be minimised and managed.

What cannot be denied is that, as a result of that stark image of a dead child, people around the globe, to whom the refugee crisis might have seemed a problem several times removed from their own comfortable lives, today have a greater awareness of the plight of those with nothing left to lose but their lives

The media and social networking sites are abuzz with the rights and wrongs of the issue. The online community thrives on such discussion. But it is important to remember that for tens of thousands like Aylan Kurdi and his family, teetering on the brink of tragedy is not a matter of debate but an everyday reality.

If we are born in a nation where healthcare, education and access to food, clean water and shelter are available we should consider ourselves fortunate. We should also remember that only a few short years ago, many of the refugees who today seek sanctuary were also proud homeowners with shiny cars and well stocked refrigerators. The situation in which they find themselves is not of their making.

Abdullah Kurdi accompanied the bodies of his two sons, Aylan and his five-year-old Galip along with his wife Rahan, who also drowned that night, back to Kobane in Syria. On the day they were buried, three European countries pledged to increase their intake of refugees by tens of thousands. It is too little and, of course, too late for those who have perished but if it heralds the beginning of a new sense of humanity and compassion from those governments in Europe and beyond, who bear much of the responsibility for the current chaos in the Middle East, it will be a start.

Not one of us has any say in our place of birth, just as none of us can accurately anticipate how and where we will die. It was Aylan Kurdi’s tragic misfortune to be born in Syria during this catastrophic period of that country’s history and to die in the dark waters of the Mediterranean Sea on his way to what his parents had hoped would be a better future.

We cannot bring him back but if the sight of his tiny body laying on the sandy shore of a Turkish holiday resort serves to remind us of our own good fortune and privilege, and of our responsibility to other members of the human race, Aylan Kurdi will have achieved more than kings, sheikhs and presidents have been able to in solving this human tragedy. As a society we all failed Aylan, for God sake let’s not fail anyone else.

 

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