The world awoke today to news that Alan Kurdi, the little boy whose lifeless body was found on a Turkish beach yesterday, was part of a Syrian refugee family who may have applied for asylum in Canada – and been rejected. Suddenly, both the bloody Syrian conflict and the international migration crisis have landed on global screens in a way that may finally prove too terrible to ignore. Politicians are pointing fingers and partisans are going at each other hammer and tongs – while the average person asks, What Can I Do?
Alan’s heartbreaking story says much about what has or hasn’t been done so far. The devastating details are still rushing in, and as so often in the modern news pipeline, definitive facts, details and even spellings are hard to come by. At the moment, it appears that Tima Kurdi – a Canadian resident for more than 20 years – sent money to Turkey for her brother Abdullah Kurdi, his wife Rehan and sons Ghalib, 5, and Alan, 3 to board a smuggler’s boat to Greece and eventually join her in Coquitlam, British Columbia. There have also been unconfirmed reports that Tima was trying to sponsor the family as refugees to Canada and that this effort was rejected by the Canadian government.
It doesn’t matter, in the end. “They lost all hope, and in a desperate situation, you make all these wrong decisions,” Tima’s husband Rocco Logozzo told CTV News. After a couple of earlier failed attempts to make the crossing, the Kurdis ended up on one of two boats that took on water in the dark night. Twelve people drowned, including Alan, his brother and his mother.
Even before it was suggested that his family had a Canadian connection, social media and public opinion around the world reacted with horror to Wednesday’s tragic image of Alan’s lifeless body on the shore near one of Turkey’s most popular holiday resorts on Wednesday. Chris Alexander, the Canadian Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, appeared on a national political television panel Wednesday to talk about the refugee crisis. In a hot-tempered exchange with the host and opponents from other political parties, Alexander tried – and failed – to defend Canada’s recent record on refugee assistance. Within hours of Alan’s connection to Canada being revealed by the Ottawa Citizen, Alexander suspended his campaign for re-election to look into the case.
The story of how sweet, smiley Alan and his family ended up in the sea will rage on every channel and platform in the coming days, forcing many comfortable North Americans to finally confront their connection to the madness at the Chunnel entrance and the tragedy of Europe’s beaches of death. It’s easy for the average citizen to feel powerless to do anything, but there are simple ways to take action and have impact whether you live in Canada or the United States, Toronto or Boston, Ottawa or Austin.
Here are a few:
- Seek out your local refugee support groups and ask them what they need. Many faith groups do excellent work in this area and they always need financial, moral and logistical support. In Canada, the Canadian Council for Refugees is an umbrella group of agencies working with refugees. Their web site is a good source of background information and links. There are many local and international organizations doing great work with refugees in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States who can provide you with advice.
- Find out how your government handles refugee sponsorship and see if you and your friends or family can step up. In Canada, for example, groups of 5 private citizens can organize to sponsor refugees with United Nations status by working with pre-approved organizations. Lifeline Syria, which is organizing an effort to bring 1,000 refugees to Toronto, and other private sponsorship groups are great resources for navigating this system. With help and advice, you can join or create a group to sponsor a refugee from Syria or elsewhere. In the USA, the Refugee Council is a good place to start for background information, or contact one of the agencies resettling refugees.
- Volunteer to help refugees already living in your community by contacting any immigrant-serving agency in the area. Personal connections mean everything to feeling at home, and many refugees need help understanding the school system, writing resumes and making friends in mainstream society. Be the bridge to help them cross the divide between isolation and belonging.
- Raise your voice to federal politicians and tell them you want to see action in resolving the refugee crisis. Use the trending hashtags on social media to highlight the issue to decisionmakers online, and send them an email to underline your feelings. You may think one email or tweet won’t matter, but if 100 people tell a political candidate they care about something, the candidate will pay attention.
- Donate to agencies helping victims of the conflict in Syria, as well as agencies supporting refugees from Syria and elsewhere caught in limbo and contemplating desperate measures. This list is a good place to start.
In the coming weeks, millions of Canadian and American children are heading back to school after a long summer break. If Alan and his family had made it to Canada, he might have been waving his older brother Gulip off to kindergarten in Coquitlam next week.
Don’t wait for the politicians to get it right – do what you can in your own community. Now.
Editor’s note: We are using the name spellings of Alan and Ghalib, not Aylan and Galip, to be consistent with information their aunt provided to Canadian Press. Should those spellings be corrected later, we will update this post.