I remember watching my Sidi – may God rest his soul – and wondering what was going through his mind as he stared at the TV watching Al Jazeera – when it was only in Arabic at the time – with tears rolling down his life-lined cheeks.
It was just the news. Why was he crying? It wasn’t happening in America. It wasn’t happening to people he knew. It was just the TV – why was he crying?
As I sit in the back of the bus going home from work – staring at my phone – reading the news about lifeless children washing up on shores – I find the tips of my fingers soaked from trying to continuously wipe the tears from my face before anyone around me can notice that I’ve been uncontrollably crying. Too late. And I don’t really care. Because I feel like everyone on this bus should be crying with me.
His name was Aylan. And he was 3-years-old.
His father, Abdullah Kurdi, was hoping to provide his wife – Rehanna – and two sons – Galip was Aylan’s 5-year-old brother, who also drowned – with a better, safer life. One that would be free of bombs, free of starvation, free of evil, free of fear. Instead, his entire family died one by one in his arms.
Having been arrested and tortured by the Syrian police in Aleppo – he had his teeth ripped out of his mouth – Abdullah was forced to sell his store in hopes to bribe the Syrian police for his release. The bribe cost him 5,000,000 Syrian Pounds – about $25,000. Once being released, Aleppo was being attacked by aerial bombs by the Assad regime – giving Abdullah no choice but to move his family back to their original hometown of Kobani, which was later attacked by ISIS.
Abdullah eventually got his family from Kobani to Turkey, where from there he and his wife decided to make their next move to Kos, Greece after being denied Canadian citizenship in June. Abdullah purchased four unknowingly faulty life jackets from traffickers in Turkey for €4,000 – that’s $5,860 – and put his family on a rubber dinghy that met its tragic fate when high waves came crashing down on the boat. The dinghy capsized – and all 12 people were thrown into the hostile waters that were believed to be safer than the land they were trying to get as far away as possible from. The island of Kos was 4-kilometers away; a 30 minute trip at most.
Abdullah recalls his family slipping away one at a time, after holding on to the flipped boat for nearly an hour. His son, Galip, died first. Abdullah released his body into the water in order to focus on saving his wife and other son. Aylan was next to pass. Abdullah released his body into the waters, too. When he reached for Rehanna, she too had passed. Abdullah had given his family’s bodies to the water that was supposed to be their savior, while he continued to hold on to the dinghy for nearly three hours waiting for the coast guard to come.
The Kurdi family’s story is just one of millions of refugees, but happens to be the one that brought us the photo of a little boy, in a red T-shirt, appearing to be laying peacefully facedown in the sand of a Turkish beach to finally spark the world’s interest into the Syrian humanitarian crisis. How Aylan got to that beach was anything but peaceful.
There is a definitive difference between the terms “migrant” and “refugee”. The former, is a person who makes a conscious effort to leave their country seeking a better life elsewhere. The latter, is a person forced to leave their country because of the risks of staying home. People who get on a blow up boat in the middle of the night to risk their own and their children’s lives are not migrants, they are refugees.
Since 2011, there have been over 4 million refugees recorded to have fled Syria seeking safe havens around the world. 4,000,000. Four million. That is more than the population of the state of Connecticut. Imagine the entire state of Connecticut missing its people. Guess how many refugees the richest “Muslim” countries who preach Islamic code and law have taken in – zero. Of those some 4 million, only 584 have been allowed to resettle in the United States.
So as I sit here sobbing for days I get it, Sidi. I finally get it. This isn’t happening on American shores. This isn’t happening to children I know. It’s just the news, yeah?
It’s not just the news. It’s not just the TV.
We cry because we have compassion. We have empathy. We cry because even though those aren’t “our” children on the TV, they matter to us. They are our future. We cry because even though it is “just the TV” – it is real. And we don’t understand why it’s real.
We are all responsible.
This little boy, his family, all of these people – they are real. Feel for them. Cry for them. Remember them. Work towards ensuring that no one else ends up like them.
A great organization that deserves more attention for their tireless efforts at helping refugees cross the Mediterranean is Migrant Offshore Aid Station – to donate to their cause – click here.