These last weeks the world has been focused on the Syrian refugee crisis. It always seemed distant. An European problem. Out of our reach. Maybe out of our heads as soon as the news ends.
That all changed with one photo.
Frightfully simple in pose. Gruesome. Scarring and complicated in content. A rescue worker carrying the drowned body of little Aylan Kurdi. A 3 year-old Syrian boy. The latest victim of a growing crisis and I fear not the last.
As I watched the news, I wanted to scream at the TV to stop showing it. It’s a sight you cannot un-see. Selfishly, my initial reaction goes to my own kids (I have a 4 year-old at home). However, it seemed to be disrespectful to Aylan, his lost future, and his family’s unbearable present. It brought so many emotions to the surface. A combination of sadness and anger.
How many others were there?
Sons and daughters. Mothers, grandparents and more. What about the ones we don’t see on the news?
Maybe we need this.
Maybe we need this kind of wakeup call. This ice bucket moment to shock us into action.
Today is International Peace Day and it’s a good time to reflect on what that means in the world. Peace. Often that is what creates a refugee… the drive to find peace. To escape violence and tyranny. To escape political turmoil or persecution. The want is simple. They want to find peace.
Peace is something we’ve all known here. I think we all know how lucky we all are to be born in Canada and to enjoy the freedoms secured by the generations of men and women before us. But a picture like that of Aylan brings it from the subconscious to conscious; even for a brief moment on the global stage, we collectively pause and take stock of our immense luck.
With the rapid pace of 24-hour news, the challenge is to use this reflection to enact change. Of course the traction of the photo will diminish with time, it already has been pushed aside by a litany of Trump one-liners, but we need to resist the temptation to forget it.
How is it that our global community has not done more?
The question is a hollow one, and it disturbs me to really contemplate it because children die in refugee camps around the world every day. The tragedy will be if we do not use this specific child to move all of us in some way to act.
We are a nation of immigrants. We need to build our nation further like we have done in the past, and open our borders, our hospitals, our homes, and hearts to all of them. This may seem like a mile-high idea, like a dream too big to execute on, but that should be a sign that it is worth pursuing and completing. We have the space, the money, and the ability to do this. We have the capacity as a nation to change the face of how we operate on a global stage, and this could be a rare defining moment in our history. We cannot let this opportunity pass us by.
Thinking back, the decision to first go to Haiti was relatively easy. I have medical skills. They needed medical help. But this refugee crisis is something completely different. I’m at a loss because I feel all I can do is keep saying that we, as a nation, need to do more and do it now.
So maybe Aylan did not die in vain. Perhaps his short life will have a lasting impact on governments all around the world. His little hands and arms have already managed to move policy, to push officials, to enact change. The challenge to all of us is to sustain his life, and his memory, beyond that cold beach.
For International Peace Day, let’s all reflect on how we can bring more peace for more people, no matter where they are in the world.