It was a photo that shocked the world, a little boy – a toddler wearing a red T-shirt and shorts washed up on a shore, his lifeless body lying on a beach, his round cheek pressed to the sand and waves crashing against his little body. The headline simply read, “How a small Syrian child came to be washed up on a beach in Turkey”.
I have come to learn that the little boy’s name was Aylan Kurdi. He was 3 years old boy from Syria. And this wasn’t a coverage of a drowning accident on a summer holiday, but a tragic tale of a 3 year old boy, his 5 year old brother and his mother who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to escape the atrocities of the civil war in their home country.
Aylan’s family (his brother, mother and father, who was the only survivor of the harrowing journey) was from Kobane, Syria, a city often at the center of clashes between Western forces and the Islamic State, including an attack in June in which 145 civilians were killed.
Like most refugees from war-torn Syria, Aylan and his family made 800-mile journey from Kobane through Turkey in hopes of crossing the Mediterranean Sea to get to Greece, then, migrate to Northern Europe, the U.S. or in Kurdi’s case, to their relatives in Canada.
Aylan’s family paid Turkish smugglers $4000 to get them from Turkey to Greece, and according to Mr. Abdullah (Aylan’s father), the smugglers promised the family a safe passage across the Mediterranean Sea, which is notorious for being temperamental.
Not until the night of the arduous journey did they find out that the yacht the smugglers had promised turned out to be a mere dinghy, and when the sea got rough, the smuggler abandoned the boat leaving the passengers to fend for themselves.
The boat capsized after one hour. After it capsized, the family clung to the boat, and Mr. Abdullah tried to hold his two children and wife with his arms.
Tragically, his desperate attempts to keep his family afloat and alive were futile against the brutal waves of the Mediterranean Sea. After he lost his family, Mr. Abdullah stayed 3 hours in the sea before he was rescued by the Greek coast guards.
I cannot even begin to comprehend the pain that Mr. Abdullah must be going through right now. The pain of not only witnessing the death of his children and his wife in possibly the most agonizing way, but then being left alone in the sea to fight for his own life knowing that they were no longer alive.
It’s pain that no human being should ever have to endure!
And yet, millions of migrants and refugees (19.5 million at the end of 2014) face such danger and death every day in order to escape the conflict and persecution in their own country, and shockingly, 51% of refugees are under 18 years old.
It is incomprehensible that we, in the Western world and in the developed countries would allow such tragedy to occur. I recoiled in horror as I read the stories of people dying falling from the top of a moving freight train, crammed into a truck or drowning in a sea en route to seek safety or better lives.
The death of these migrants and refugees is the consequence of a collective failure of the Western leaders and our society. It is shameful that we are allowing this to happen. Aylan Kurdi wasn’t killed by bombs in Syria, but killed while making a terrifying journey in search of safety and better life.
As a mother – as a citizen of the world, my heart breaks for this little boy, his family and all the migrants and refugees whose lives have been uprooted by war and disaster, who are merely searching for hope, opportunity and safety for themselves and their family.
We, in the Western world must step up and provide protection to these refugees and to those most in need. At the very least, such a response should involve a significant increase in the resettlement of refugees, more humanitarian visas and more ways to reunite families.
As Gauri van Gulik, the Deputy Europe Director at Amnesty International has stated, “Anything less would be a moral and human rights failure of tragic proportions – something we simply cannot be silent about.”