By the end of August, the United Nations estimates that 6.5 million Syrians have been displaced and 3 million have gone to nearby countries to flee the civil war and ISIS. Of the 4,088,078 who have registered, just over two in five are under age 11, and half of those under age four. Now in its fifth year, the war in Syria has killed around 222,000 people. This is one of the worst refugee crises in world history and the international refugee aid system is straining under its weight.
This week’s news has been further heartbreaking upon the discovery of the body of a drown 3-year-old refugee on a Mediterranean beach. His name was Aylan Kurdi. He died along with his mother and 5-year-old brother while trying to flee Syria. Aylan’s family was on a rickety smuggler’s boat because their attempt to migrate to Canada to be with family, was declined. The application was returned because it didn’t have the correct, “regulatory requirements for proof of refugee status recognition.” A photographer found Alyan’s small body and when his photograph was shown in papers around the world, my husband just couldn’t shake it. He told me, “If our country went to war, if Mexicans or Canadians were coming at us with guns, we would do the exact same thing. We would flee.”
The photo of Aylan’s body shows a bright red t-shirt, blue shorts and tiny velcro shoes—just like the velcro shoes I put on my own two-year-old’s feet to get him ready for the day. I chose the photo above, not because it is the most current, or shows the dire need of the refugees. I chose it because it shows the children of these families, just like any other children, in any country. These are the world’s children. These are our children.
We are not immune to the situation, it happens here too. When I worked with the Red Cross in New York after 9-11, it was unlike any other time the Red Cross had experienced. They had to adapt everyday, re-train their staff and volunteers everyday. The same thing happened during the wildfires in Colorado. Both events were times of crisis in our own country, just on a smaller scale.
There are many aid organizations on the ground but their funding is running out. The UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees) Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan is just 41%-funded as of August 25, 2015.
I sit in my air-conditioned home, with my two boys, safe, clean and well-fed. The images in the news seem far away, but I can’t help but have a visceral reaction to them. There are only three responses to this sort of tragedy:
- There are people that take advantage of the situation. Like the smugglers who send refugees on shoddy boats to capitalize on a desperate situation. I saw the same thing after 9-11, where folks sold bottled water to people with no running water for $10 a pop, or those who scammed the Red Cross pretending to be victims to get double and triple benefits.
- There is indifference. This one is easy to accomplish. All you have to do is ignore the news and pretend like the world is the size of your own backyard. Sometimes your own life requires this. You can’t always take on the world’s problems, but on the other hand, you can’t always ignore them either. The world is, in fact, not the size of your own backyard.
- There is action. This is where the good stuff happens. This is where you see hope in the world and hope in mankind. Where human beings come together to take care of each other. When the Icelandic government offered to take in 50 refugees, many Icelanders felt that was not enough. Since then, over 10,000 Icelanders have offered to host Syrian refugees in their home. This is in a country of 323,000 people. Icelandic author, Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir set up a Facebook page to rally her fellow countrymen around the cause. Of the refugees, she says,
“They are our future spouses, best friends, the next soul mate, a drummer for our children’s band, the next colleague, Miss Iceland in 2022, the carpenter who finally finishes the bathroom, the cook in the cafeteria, a fireman and television host.”
Action takes more time then number two, but it doesn’t have to take much. Whatever you can give, be it $5 or $500, here are a list of organizations where you can give.
Just click below, donate and help your fellow man.
The UN Refugee Agency: Provides cash for medicine and food, stoves and fuel for heating, insulation for tents, thermal blankets and winter clothing.
Save the Children: Supplies food for Syrian kids and supports education in Syrian refugee camps.
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders: MSF is operating three rescue ships in the Mediterranean Sea that can carry hundreds of people to land.
Unicef: Delivers vaccines, winter clothes and food for children in Syria and neighboring countries.
International Rescue Committee: The group’s emergency team is in Greece, where nearly 1,000 migrants are arriving per day.
World Food Programme: The agency says it is struggling to meet the urgent food needs of millions of displaced Syrians.
Mercy Corps: Refugees are most in need of clean water, sanitation services, temporary shelter and food, the agency says.
Aylan Kurdi & Syria’s Child Victims of War: A new fund named after Aylan himself. Money goes to “Hand In Hand For Syria,” a U.K.-based organization that works with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
CARE: Reaches Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Yemen, and those displaced inside Syria with food, hygiene items and emergency cash. It’s also helping refugees crossing into Serbia.