Europeans Refuse To Shut The Door On Refugees, Even If Their Governments Will
Originally published on Slant.
Aylan Kurdi never had the chance to grow up with the comfort and security that most children in Western nations take for granted. The 3-year-old toddler was found face down in the rocky surf off the coast of Turkey.
Aylan, along with his brother, Galip (who was 5), and their mother, Rehan were among the 12 Syrians who were found drowned, washed up on the shore. The family was hoping to reach the Greek island of Kos, which has been an informal checkpoint for many Syrians seeking asylum in Western countries. From there, they hoped to reunite with family members in Canada. And although their request for asylum had already been denied by the Canadian government, they trudged forward regardless.
Their journey was cut short.
More than 4 million Syrians are displaced across various countries and another 7.6 million are displaced within Syria, according to the United Nations. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has called Syrians "the biggest refugee population from a single conflict in a generation."
As Syria continues to destabilize, more refugees will undoubtedly take increasingly desperate measures to ensure basic survival.
And while some countries, like Germany and France, are taking steps to ease asylum restrictions, many others have made it difficult for displaced people to find a home.
Lack of organization, space, and a rising tide of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe has led to Syrians being arrested, detained, and deported. Displaced Syrians live like fugitives, as stowaways on faulty ships that often sink, and hiding in rail cars traversing the continent.
It's easy to forget in the mix of bureaucracy and politics that those who aren't granted asylum face near-certain death, whether it's within Syria, or during the dangerous journey that Syrians must complete to find even a shred of safety.
At least 2,500 Syrians have died this year trying to reach Europe. If something isn't done soon, thousands more Aylans will wash up on Western shores, or suffocate in crowded vans, or be killed with chemical weapons. Blood will be on the hands of countries who refuse to help.
Fortunately, while their governments may not be taking proactive steps to aid in this humanitarian crisis, ordinary citizens are going out of their way to find a solution.
One source of hope can be found in Iceland. After the Icelandic government announced that it was capping resettlement of Syrians at a measly 50 people, 10,000 residents volunteered to provide hospitality and refuge to any displaced Syrians who might need it.
Several Icelandic refugee activists, who helped organize the movement through Facebook, wrote, "Refugees are our future spouses, best friends, our next soul mate, the drummer in our children’s band, our next colleague, Miss Iceland 2022, the carpenter who finally fixes our bathroom, the chef in the cafeteria, the fireman, the hacker and the television host."
This gesture has inspired several other European locales to set up efforts to help displaced Syrians.
In Spain, the local governments of Barcelona, Madrid, and Palma de Mallorca announced that they would be setting up registries for local residents to host Syrian refugees. Germans have set up a philanthropic online platform similar to Airbnb, called "Refugees Welcome," which pairs hosts who have a spare room with Syrian refugees seeking shelter. About 800 Germans have signed up thus far, with over 100 refugees finding a place to stay. Donations cover the cost of the hosts' rent and utilities, which means hosts can better provide for their Syrian guests.
While international governments might be struggling to find solutions to the refugee crisis, it's comforting to know that many individual Westerners are stepping up to provide for their fellow human being.
SYRIAN REFUGEE ORGANIZATIONS:
Cover photo: Getty