Eyes wide open

  • September 10, 2015

Pictures of a dead three-year-old Syrian child washed ashore in Turkey made the world weep, but will little Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body move world populations and their governments to act?

It shouldn’t have come to this, of course. Syrians and many relief agencies have been crying out for help almost from the outbreak of war four years ago. Their pleas brought only a restrained, often political, response that is too little and, certainly in the case of Alan Kurdi, too late.

This little boy now joins thousands of children killed this decade in Middle Eastern wars. Many died as refugees, but even more were killed on the street or in their beds as the world looked away. It has taken the horrifying image of a toddler in his red t-shirt and blue shorts washed up on a beach to finally get the world’s attention.

“I wish that my son becomes a symbol of our situation,” said Alan’s father, whose wife and other son also died when their small boat capsized. “I just want people to help those in need. This is not about me. My life is over.”

This is not the time to debate the decision by Canada and other nations to target Islamic State fighters with bombing missions in Syria and Iraq. But what is clear, moreso than ever, is that it is humanely and morally wrong for a nation to embrace war without simultaneously and fully opening its arms to the human misery war creates.

There is something fundamentally backwards when nations spend more on bombs than on the families they destroy. A UN appeal for Syria launched in January to raise (U.S.) $8.4 billion is barely halfway to its goal. The world must do better.

Individually, people need to support appeals for financial aid and, collectively, they should demand that their political leaders: provide emergency aid for the multitudes in misery who are on the run or trapped in bleak refugee camps; immediately amend policies, cut red tape and offer asylum to tens of thousands of legitimate refugees who can never go home; and commit to helping restore peace to the region.

Almost eight million Syrians have been displaced by civil war, but the world’s refugee crisis is more than a Syrian problem. Every day, more than 42,000 people are added to the 60 million forsaken souls worldwide who are uprooted due mainly to war, famine and poverty. More than half of them are children whose names, unlike that of Alan Kurdi, will never be spoken beyond their distraught families.

Little Alan’s father calls his son a symbol for the situation of Syrian refugees. But the child is more than that. He is a heartrending symbol of the plight of refugees worldwide.

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