Telling my son about the refugee crisis

Syrian Kurdish refugees cross into Turkey from Syria, near the town of Kobani. This is where the Kurdi family are understood to have come from. UNHCR / I. Prickett
Syrian Kurdish refugees cross into Turkey from Syria, near the town of Kobani. This is where the Kurdi family are understood to have come from.
Photo Credit: UNHCR / I. Prickett

My six year old saw me looking at the heartbreaking image of the three year old boy who drowned during a perilous voyage to Europe. “Is that boy dead?” he asked. For a split second I thought about making up a lie that would be easier for him to process. But I decided that sometimes life’s lessons are better taught reactively. “Yes,” I said.

“What happened to him, did he drown?” he said. I sat him on my knee and took a deep breath. “He did drown. He was trying to get to Europe to find a safe place to live but his boat capsized.”

“Where are his Mum and Dad?” he asked. I told him that I didn’t know. He looked away then. I told him that the boy lived in a place where there was a war, where people were fighting and he and his family were trying to get away. I told my son that he is lucky to live somewhere that is at peace and that the little boy in the photo wanted to come and live somewhere like this. ”Did he have swimming lessons?” asked my six year old. I told him that I didn’t know but that the boy was only three and even if he did have swimming lessons the sea was too cold and the waves too strong for children to be able to stay afloat for very long. The boy wasn’t wearing a life jacket – which tells us so much about the human traffickers that are not only exploiting the tragedy of the displaced people but are multiplying it many, many times over.

Photo Credit: UNHCR Some 186 people from Nigeria, Pakistan, Nepal, Ethiopia, Sudan, Malaysia and Syria are rescued from an over-crowded smugglers’ boat and transferred from the Grecale Navy ship to the San Giusto war ship, as part of the Italian Navy’s Mare Nostrum operation. Among recent and highly visible consequences of conflicts around the world, and the suffering they have caused, has been a dramatic growth in the number of refugees seeking safety by undertaking dangerous sea journeys, including on the Mediterranean. UNHCR / Alfredo D’Amato
Some 186 people from Nigeria, Pakistan, Nepal, Ethiopia, Sudan, Malaysia and Syria are rescued from an over-crowded smugglers’ boat and transferred from the Grecale Navy ship to the San Giusto war ship, as part of the Italian Navy’s Mare Nostrum operation.
Photo credit: UNHCR / Alfredo D’Amato

This was enough sadness for my six year old who got down from my knee and went back outside to play football, which is perhaps what the boy would have done if he had made it across the sea. Media reports later explained that he, his five year old brother, his mother and his father were all heading for Canada. The boy’s aunt lived there and she was waiting for him and his family. But according to The Guardian the government had rejected the asylum application. To get to Canada the family then turned to the ruthless smugglers who took their money and then sent them to their deaths.

I don’t know if I did the right thing in explaining this to my son. But sadly this is the world we live in. I would rather show him the news and teach him compassion than let him watch reality TV and learn that fame means you can launch a perfume and call it a career.

Meanwhile pressure is mounting on the UK government to allow more refugees into the country and on the European Union to create a coordinated approach to the crisis. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) 300,000 refugees have tried to cross the Mediterranean so far in 2015 and 2600 of them have died. “The vast majority of those arriving in Greece come from conflict zones like Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan and are simply running for their lives,” said Antonio Guterres, high commissioner for refugees at the UNHCR in a statement today (4th Sept). He called on EU states to come together and create a common response implementing a mass relocation programme with the mandatory participation of all EU member states. This would replace the current piecemeal approach which is exacerbating the situation allowing pressure to mount at crisis points such as Greece and Hungary. “Thousands of refugee parents are risking the lives of their children on unsafe smuggling boats primarily because they have no other choice. European countries – as well as governments in other regions – must make some fundamental changes to allow for larger resettlement and humanitarian admission quotas, expanded visa and sponsorship programmes, scholarships and other ways to enter Europe legally,” said Guterres. “Crucially, family reunification has to become a real, accessible option for many more people than is currently the case. If these mechanisms are expanded and made more efficient, we can reduce the number of those who are forced to risk their lives at sea for lack of alternative options.”

To donate to UNHCR click here.

To write to your local MP and give your views on the UK’s response to this crisis click here.

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