I see Alan Kurdi’s body lying on the sand and wonder what his parents were thinking.
That 3771 people had died trying to cross the Mediterranean sea in 2015.
That people were dying each day in Syria from barrel bombs and toxic gases. That people were being kidnapped and tortured to death. That they might die like others who became trapped and couldn’t leave their houses to get the food or medical treatment they needed.
His parents must have thought that the water was safer than the land.
Like thousands of other parents, his parents must have put their child in a boat with dreams of escaping violence and death.
The current refugee crisis is not the first time that parents have been forced to brave the danger of the water in order to give their children a chance at life. In 1975, there were the thousands of refugees who fled a South Vietnam devastated by war. In the 1990s thousands fled a dictatorship in Haiti in search of the American dream.
Unfortunately, many parts of history are currently repeating themselves. As surely as parents will weather unthinkable danger in order to protect their children, those with the capacity to help are turning their backs.
We are in the midst of the largest refugee crisis the world has ever seen, but instead of extending sympathy and compassion, we are refusing to help.
Instead of thinking of the bravery and hope that people must have when choosing to step onto a raft in order to make a treacherous journey, we are being told that we should be worried about our own safety. We are being told that our borders will be overrun with terrorists and people vastly different from us if we open our shores and homes to these families.
Perhaps the people trying to turn away refugees are hoping to make parents worry that a new country will be even more dangerous than the one they’re leaving behind. Maybe they want parents to think that their children will be better off living in constant fear of bullets and bombs than if they were to try and make a home for themselves in a new and hostile land.
But we are not that different. Syrian parents, Afghani parents, Iraqi parents are doing what parents everywhere do. They are trying to protect their children, and sometimes that means making the heart wrenching decision to leave behind everything they know and have built for themselves.
We need to (re)-learn this lesson.
We say never again will we let tragedies like the Holocaust, Rwanda, or Cambodia occur because we are one human family. As people, we are bound by what makes us similar: a desire for love and justice, a commitment to our children and the next generation, and the capacity for unspeakable evil as well as astounding kindness and bravery.
Refusing to acknowledge the real reasons why thousands continue to risk their lives and their children’s lives at sea denies this common humanity.
If we fall into the trap of viewing these brave individuals and families as terrorists, as foreigners looking to steal our jobs and change our homes, we are forfeiting our humanity, as surely as those committing the atrocities that are driving people to flee.
We must remember this truth— we are more similar than we are different. Parents everywhere will put their children in a boat charted for an unknown place when the land becomes dangerous enough. This truth is at the core of our common humanity and we must hold onto it. We who are receiving those fleeing violence mustn’t allow ourselves to turn to fear and hatred. We must all be as brave and hopeful as the parents who put their children in a boat.