By Dhruv Singh Op-ed Editor. While you were sitting down for dinner on September 2, a father 5,000 miles away was uncertainly boarding his family onto a rubber raft. Anxiously, his two sons, ages three and five, and his wife, who was scared of open water, took their seats, wearing their so-called life vests. Just minutes later, they would be dead.
They weren’t out there for fun; this has nothing to do with summer recreation. They were Syrian. They were fleeing. Facing a homeland in tatters and a regime that uses sarin gas and tortures kids; they were among the 4 million refugees that have been displaced from their homes.
They likely turned to Turkey or Lebanon or Jordan or Iraq or Egypt. But stability there is fleeting. With camps underfunded and refugee laws-like those of Turkey-that don’t allow refugees to work, a source of income is hard to come by. As a result, they chose to seek permanent refuge in Europe.
So they shelled out $5,680 to smugglers in order to make the journey to Greece. They boarded what can only be considered a boat by the loosest definition of the word, and they hoped for a miracle. It didn’t come. At 6:30 am, Syrian time, while you were sound asleep, a body washed ashore. It was Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old son.
At this point, it is vital to make an important distinction. Aylan and his family were refugees, not migrants. Far too often, this humanitarian crisis has been labeled a migrant crisis. It is not and this is not merely a semantic difference. It is a life or death distinction. Migrants leave by choice. If they are caught entering Europe illegally, they can be turned around and shipped home. Aylan and his family were not leaving by choice. They were refugees fleeing armed conflict, and the denial of asylum had deadly consequences. Had they reached Greece, they would have been protected.
Yet the western world, with the exception of Germany, would rather see refugees drown. Canada is accepting 30% less refugees; Australia is violating international law, and in the United States, our immigration debate has devolved into a racist, shouting match, ignoring any semblance of facts. European Union members have rejected a mandatory quota system and Hungary’s prime minister cried, echoing the rising anti-immigration sentiment of Europe, that he is barely able “to keep Europe Christian,” god forbid, help any refugees, so he’s building a razor-wire fence.
As much as Europe and the rest of the world’s wealthy nations would like to believe this is a Syrian problem. It is not. This is a human problem. These are our people and the blood of three-year-old Aylan, and thousands of others, is on our hands. Had the EU, or Australia, or Canada, or the United States, or any other country welcomed Aylan and his family, they would be alive. But it is too late for Aylan. As his father said, “even if you give me all the countries in the world, what was precious is gone.” For thousands more, there is hope. It will be expensive. It may be unpopular. But it is our obligation. We must remember that these are our people, and we must protect our own.