Aylan Kurdi began his day on September 2nd dressed in a red shirt, blue shorts and shoes. The three-year-old was travelling with his father, mother and five-year-old brother on a dangerous sea journey from Turkey to Greece, fleeing from civil war in his home country of Syria. His tragic day ended with him drowned and washed up on a beach in Turkey.
Since that day the toddler, whose mother and brother also died when the boat they were in capsized, has become the symbol of the plight of refugees. While not alone in his quest for a peaceful life (there are more than 16 million people in need of assistance inside and outside of Syria according to Mercy Corps), it was the drowned little boy that inspired a lot of soul-searching among Westerners about how to deal with such a large influx of refugees into European borders.
The photo of the toddler washed up, face down on a beach has wrenched the hearts of everyone who has seen it. The photographer who took the shot said “the best thing to do was to make this tragedy heard. At that moment, when I saw the three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, I was petrified. The only thing I could do was to make his outcry heard. When I realized there was nothing to do to bring that boy back to life I thought I had to take his picture...to show the tragedy.”
As Americans, this tragedy seems so far away. We see these images of people fleeing from their civil-war ridden homelands on news shows and online and think how terrible the situation is. Then we turn our attention to other, less tragic news while thinking to ourselves this is something Europeans must deal with.
But the picture of the boy changed that. It was shared widely on Twitter and Facebook and drew comparisons to the 1993 photo of a vulture near a starving child in Sudan.
The sad fact is people are dying. Children. Mothers. Fathers. Brothers. Sisters. Wars are destroying families and lives. The people fleeing from war-ravaged Syria has been called “the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era.” Half of Syria’s population has been displaced since protests began in March 2011 and there are now more than 4 million Syrians in refugee camps, fleeing from the mass-murdering regime of Bashar al-Assad and the violence of ISIS.
While it would be ideal to solve the problems inside Syria quickly, practical experience shows Middle East triumphs rarely happen.
So, as a global leader, America - a nation of immigrants ourselves - should stand with the Europeans and allow more than the 1,500 Syrian refugees we’ve already allowed in our country to resettle here. If an already crowded Germany (who announced Monday they can take in 500,000 refugees a year for the next several years) can make room, surely we can too.
It can be overwhelming as individuals to consider the larger, global ramifications of intervention from a military or humanitarian perspective, often feeling we don’t know enough to offer useful comment on policy decisions. But the inscription on the Statue of Liberty should provide direction:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Opposition to allowing more refugees inside our borders primarily stems from worries about terrorists slipping through. And our Homeland Security officials have already said that any potential refugees from Syria would receive “the most rigorous screening.”
We couldn’t agree more. Yes, be thorough in the vetting process to keep out potential terrorists and don’t allow the refugee process to become a backdoor for jihadists.
The State Department’s director of Refugee Admission for the Bureau of Population said: “It’s not a matter of should we do it, it’s really a matter of how we do it. One of the fundamental principles of our country is that we care about others. We will help others.”
We don’t advocate that America should always “do something” about international situations, but with this tragedy we can humanely take in some of those dislocated by cruelty. Absorbing immigrants and refugees is always disruptive - for the nations taking them in and the refugees themselves.
We need to help in a meaningful way. We need to be a part of the solution that makes sure Aylan Kurdi’s father is the last parent who has to see his entire family eradicated from this earth.