Yesterday’s front pages were like something out of a horror film. Is a dead toddler on the beach of a popular tourist resort a sight we ever thought we’d see in Europe in 2015? Not in a million years. But it wasn’t just three-year-old Aylan Kurdi found on the beach yesterday morning. The body of his five-year-old brother lay washed up next to him.
Together with their parents, the brothers fled Kobane in Syria where civilians are suffering bomb strikes and chemical attacks from their own government. On top of that, the extremist militant group known as Islamic State are systematically decapitating and persecuting anyone who refuses to follow their version of Islam. And while British party-goers were sipping cocktails on the Greek island of Kos, the boys were two of 16 passengers headed there, sailing into the pitch black night in a boat only built for ten.
The boat started sinking as soon as it got into open water and what happened then? Can you imagine the fight for survival on a sinking boat, mothers fighting to keep their children aboard in what was ultimately a doomed mission? Could Aylan’s mother swim? Or was it down to his dad to try with every ounce of energy in his being to keep his entire family afloat? He was fighting a losing battle, lost and disorientated in the dark water.
What we see in the papers is just one tragic end to one refugee’s story. Why does it take the gruesome death of a toddler to wake the world up to the migrant and refugee crisis unfolding all over Europe?
People seeking asylum from war or unbearable dictatorships in places like Syria, Eritrea, Pakistan and Iran are not fleeing their countries just because they fancy. They are forced to. It’s a question of life, death and desperation. Why would they want to abandon their home, friends, family and familiar culture and trek through countries where they don’t speak the language, pursuing an unsure future? For them, anything is better than where they have come from. Do you think parents that are paying the equivalent of £2,500 per person to get on an overcrowded boat have any other choice? Somehow, risking the lives of their sons and daughters is genuinely their best, and only, hope. This week, one boat capsized, but it is one of hundreds.
Incredibly, many people have made the same terrifying voyage and survived. They then travelled crushed in a lorry or in the boot of a car and ended up at a sprawling encampment known as ‘The Jungle’ at Calais in France, the gate to the United Kingdom, only to find squalid conditions similar to any refugee camp in a war torn country.
Not only that, but they face a government calling them a ‘swarm’ and investing millions in making fences higher and security tighter. One man living there asks: “Why are you spending millions of pounds building fences? You should be helping us.”
Some ignorant people think that all refugees and migrants are potential job-robbing benefit-grabbing scumbags when actually they are normal people like you and me, exhausted and probably completely emotionally drained by the horrors that have brought them there.
The camp is home to 4,000 people, 90% of them men. Put yourself in the shoes of a teenage girl living there with limited or no access to water, food and medical supplies. What if she needs sanitary products or has a disability which means she needs extra support? The Jungle is a far cry from the welcoming utopia these people envisaged. But they don’t ask for much, just a little compassion.
It wasn’t until yesterday, following thousands of signatures on a petition and public outcry, that David Cameron said that he would accept more refugees. The Prime Minister has a four-year-old daughter and I’m sure she the most precious thing in the world to him. I imagine the idea of her lifeless body lying face down in a beach doesn’t sit too well with him. Aylan may not be a child of privilege, but he is, and he was, a human being. And his short life did not need to end this way. He was not the only child to drown today and he won’t be the last until every country plays their part in this crisis.
If you want to lend your support to the refugees, both in Calais and those trying to flee persecution and war in their home countries, follow any one of these links:
Want more information on what’s going on? Get the facts here