Opinion: Refugee crisis challenges humanity
There are some things that as human beings, we are obliged to know. One of those is the story of Aylan Kurdi.
In the photo, which brought him international fame, the 3-year-old looks almost like any other toddler who’s collapsed into a nap in the midst of a meal or playtime activity. The only difference is that he lies soaked well beyond the reach of a leaky diaper and unphased by the waves lapping against his cheeks.
Aylan is one of the reported 12,000 children killed during the Syrian civil war. As some of the 11 million people displaced by the war, his family was fleeing the violence destroying their homeland when their boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. Aylan’s body was found on a Polish beach along with the remains of his mother, his 5-year-old brother, and three other children.
Aylan’s family was heading to Greece, where the sight of refugees washing ashore, some with boats and some without, some alive and others dead, has become common enough that many tourists passing by no longer pay attention.
According to a report by the United Nations Refugee Agency, “The number of people displaced by war, conflict or persecution reached a record high of nearly 60 million around the world in 2014.” Half of those people are children.
The best tool I’ve found for understanding where refugee immigrants are coming from and where they’re going is provided by The Refugee Project. Maps on the website demonstrate the progression of refugee immigration from 1975 to 2012. They verify that the number of displaced people is increasing substantially every year and that they’re coming from every part of the world.
With numbers of people displaced from their homes due to hunger and violence increasing beyond the levels in World War II, right wing media and politicians tell us that these people are out to plunder our cities, steal our jobs, exploit our social service systems, and convert us all to Islam. Republican Presidential candidates argue about who can build the biggest walls to keep desperate families out. The United States has responded to the Syrian refugee crisis by allowing only 700 of the 11 million displaced Syrians to settle here.
Not only are millions upon millions of refugees a perpetually increasing and unstoppable force but there’s the fact that for the most part, they’re people just like us. They want food, shoes, and safe places for their kids. They’re really not interested in destroying civilization.
In her poem,“Home,” Warsaw Shire writes about refugees:
“you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles traveled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
because prison is safer
than a city of fire”
Fed by war, corruption, and climate change, the international refugee crisis is unlikely to diminish any time soon. Unless the United States is prepared to build walls along our more than 100,000 miles of coastlines and land, there will always be families like Aylan Kurdi’s seeking a way inside our borders as they run for their lives.
All of this has gone beyond the merits of one religion over another or boundary lines of countries. It’s about basic human decency. There are too many desperate, suffering people, most of whom are children, for us to continue quibbling about differences and to hate all of them enough to tolerate the human rights violations they endure day after day and decade after decade.
There’s a saying that “When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a taller fence.” I like it.
A fourth generation Coloradan, Free Press columnist Robyn Parker is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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