An op-ed from our editor on the Syrian refugee crisis and human tragedy unfolding in front of our eyes.
I am finding it very hard not to cry at my desk as I write this. The girl in the picture above is a refugee from Syria. The thing is, she looks like my daughter. My daughter’s name is Lulu. Now, look closely at the girl’s vest – it says ‘Lulu’. This hit me like a brick earlier today. The pain of a parent’s empathy struck hard. I had to resist running from this office to the school to get my Lulu out and hug her tight.
No doubt at this point you will have seen the images of poor, young, beautiful Aylan washed ashore in Bodrum that have flooded the media in the past 24 hours. No doubt you, like me, are fighting back stinging tears as you think of him, his brother, his parents as their tragedy unfolded. No doubt you are thinking of your own children, nieces, nephews and neighbours and want to hold them as close as possible today. No doubt we all want this unthinkable tragedy to end.
Yet, there is doubt. We are questioning our governments, we are questioning those with the power to help. We are pleading with them to make change, to open the doors for these people’s refuge. To increase the numbers allowed access. To offer safe harbour. And fast.
Lest we forget, we were refugees too, it’s not that long since the coffin ships held terrified Irish families trying to strike out for, not a ‘better life’ – just life. To have a chance to survive.
These people’s struggle, pain and pure panic sits in our DNA too. Our people who made it safely to other shores were welcomed in. We made new lives, families and futures. We added to our genetic mix, we moved around the world as a result. There’s Irish in everyone, right? Well, possibly. But only because our ancestors were allowed asylum.
It’s time to reach out and pay it back. The Syrian refugees are people in the direst need we could witness. No parent would ever allow their child to experience such risk to their safety if they were not utterly, and completely desperate. Desperation killed Aylan. He was three years old. This must stop.
We Irish were offered open arms – it’s time to return the gesture – there is no argument here. ‘Quotas’ and ‘percentages’ are not ways to talk about people’s futures or to talk about families so scared and threatened that they board ships with no certainty of safe passage or entry at borders. In my view, even the terms ‘refugee’ and ‘migrant’ are wrong. They are impersonal. Don’t call them asylum seekers, change your rhetoric and call them what they are; people. They are people – men, women and children. CHILDREN.
So, to our leaders I ask, would you allow closed borders and train stations if these were your people? This is an emergency, so why is the planned summit almost two weeks from now ? How many more will die in that time? Is it to be ‘business as usual’ in the EU while desperate people are dying in trucks and on beaches? How long will it take you to access your compassion and take action?
How hard would you fight if Aylan was yours?
No more. We must open our arms. Let there be no doubt anymore.
Germany taking in 800,000 refugees or 1% of its population. If Ireland was as proportionately generous, we’d take in 50,000, not 600 (.01%)
— Elaine Byrne (@ElaineByrne) September 3, 2015
Here’s What You Can Do
- Sign this petition for the Irish government to increase the numbers we will offer refuge to, from a mere 600 to something far more significant.
- Attend a march. Here is the link to the Facebook group advocating to meet at the Spire in Dublin City Centre at 2pm on the 12th of September
- Donate to the groups and charities who are helping. There are drop off points being arranged in all our cities via Facebook groups. See Dublin here and Cork here. Doctors Of The World are helping at Calais. The Irish Red Cross and Goal are fundraising and advocating.
- Watch Twitter. Use the hashtag #RefugeesWelcome. Retweet people doing small grassroots things. The Irish illustrator, Holly Shortall who we love here at IMAGE, is organising a trip to Calais to bring supplies on the 30th of September for example. Social Media comes into it’s own when people want to mobilise – spread the word further via your channels.
- Be consistently informed. Ignorance is not bliss. Know about it, shout about it.
- Be a helper. One of my favourite quotes I look to in times of horrible world crisis is that of Fred Rogers, who spoke of his query at similar times, “ When I was a boy and I would see scary thing in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’”. Take some solace from that.