For the last few days, all I can think about is Alan Kurdi. The first picture I saw of him was an artist’s rendition of Alan laying facedown in a bed, and I liked it because it reminded me of my son Sam, who is just a year old. “Sam sleeps like that too,” I thought. Then I saw the image it was based on, realized that he wasn’t sleeping, and I broke down. I’m not normally prone to bursting out in tears at work, but it’s happened a few times in the past few days as I continue to process it.
It’s amazing how quickly one photo can change the world.
There have been refugees in Syria for years. Long before there was ISIS, Bashar al Assad was killing his own people en masse. Syrians cried out for help back then, in 2011 and 2012. Canada condemned Assad, and issued sanctions against Syria, but the number of refugees has been steadily growing since then, and while we heard about it from time to time it was rarely headline news. It was just numbers from a far away place, until it suddenly became humanized this week.
Children are more human than the rest of us. They embody the preciousness of life, both in the sense that their life is fragile and vulnerable, and in the sense that they enjoy even the smallest things in life. My little Sam can’t wait to be awake every morning, and gets more joy out of a window crank than I do out of…well, out of anything (except maybe Sam himself). In a world divided by sex and race and religion and politics, children remain undividedly human, blind to their differences and universally representative. It’s easy to dehumanize adults; it’s nearly impossible to dehumanize children – and who would? They embody our hope for the future, our best features and qualities, and our love itself.
When I think about Alan Kurdi’s picture, I also think about other iconic and disturbing images of children. The Vietnamese girl splashed with napalm and the starving Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture come to mind. I won’t post them here, in case like me you feel too overwhelmed to see them right now. But the point is that these images put the most human of faces on international crises – the faces of children.
Since then, we’ve begun to look at how to respond, and it’s degrading quickly. We politicians have jumped over each other to promise to bring in higher and higher numbers of refugees, and it’s turning into a pissing match. The Conservatives want to bring in another 10,000 refugees over 5 years; the NDP says they can do that by the end of this year; and the Liberals and Greens are saying 25,000. Meanwhile, there are nearly 60 MILLION displaced people around the world. We have to do better than 25,000; people are dying today. This should not be a partisan issue of which party can one-up the others; we should be coming together to save lives.
The difficulty of bringing in more people is that our refugee system is not built for this. But like I said, these refugees didn’t pop up overnight, so if our system isn’t built for this, what is it built for? Currently, refugees are designated as part of the immigration system, and it can take up to 4 or 5 years to get into Canada as a refugee. This is insane. By definition, a refugee is someone who is in danger; they don’t have 5 years to wait. But this is the system we have. Here’s a brief story that outlines the situation:
Here’s what we’ve done in the past:
Here’s what we’re doing now:
In short, we’re not doing enough, but we’re hampered by an inadequate system. The government brings in less and less people, unless Canadians stand up and demand more. That’s what we did in the 1970’s: the Boat People crisis in Vietnam led to tens of thousands of Canadians stepping up and volunteering to sponsor refugees, and we moved 65,000 people. When Canadians volunteered, our government stepped up and provided planes to ferry people to Canada. The same thing is happening in other nations, too: over ten thousand Icelanders, spurred on by their own government’s insufficient response to this crisis, have called for more Syrian refugees to be taken in there. On issues like these, it appears, when people lead the governments follow.
So let’s lead. I know that the people in Provencher are the most generous in the country (actually – this is documented). And I know that Canadians in general are already responding en masse, searching online for how to sponsor Syrian refugees. This link is really important – it includes links to a lot of information, including a list of organizations that can help you sponsor a refugee. One local organization that didn’t make CBC’s list is MCC, which has a number of ongoing projects to help.
Let’s set aside electoral politics and work together to help these refugees. This is not an election issue, it’s a human issue. If we can step up and demand to open our nation and our homes to people in need, the only question our candidates and party leaders should have to answer on this topic is whether they’re prepared to follow where we lead them – to a more compassionate Canada.
For Alan, and Sam, and all of the children this world is not worthy of,