Over the last several days, news and social media channels have been filled with images of little Aylan Kurdi—one of nearly three thousand Syrian refugees who died trying to find safety outside their homeland this year alone. The photo above was taken in Alyan's home town of Kobane. It has been completely decimated by wave after wave of shelling and bombing. Syrians have suffered under war for more than four years–longer than Alyan's whole life–but it seems that much of the world failed to notice. Until now.
Most countries build up a giant wall of mistrust around their borders. It's easier to love from a distance. Sometimes it takes a shock to wake us to the fact that most refugees are people just like us—moms and dads wiling to try whatever it takes to keep their kids safe. Parents only put their children into smuggler's boats because that is the only remaining option.
But with little Alyan's death has come a shift. Some have decided to risk—to love anyway.
Ordinary people are realizing that they are not helpless. In fact, they can make a positive impact on the lives of refugees. They are showing up in the streets with signs of welcome, showing their governments that there is room in their hearts to take in these strangers.
A couple in Germany, realizing that newcomers and host communities would function better if refugees were integrated into neighbourhoods instead of put into camps, quickly developed the Refugees Welcome website. It helps connect refugees with home owners in Germany and Austria who have room to spare.
The open-hearted actions of ordinary people are changing the policies of governments.
In Iceland, a country with a population of just 320,000 originally pledged to take in 50 refugees. But there has been a groundswell of compassion in this tiny country, illustrated by messages online:
“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. People who we’ll never be able to say to: ‘Your life is worth less than mine.’
“Open the gates.”
Now, because of offers of practical support from citizens, the government of Iceland has agreed to accept 10,000 refugees.
The mayor of the city of Goslar, Germany–which has a shrinking population–sees Syrian refugees as a way to save their community.
“We have plenty of empty housing, and rather than see it decay we could give new homes to immigrants, helping them, and so give our town a future,” Junk said. “It’s mad that in Göttingen they are having to build new accommodation, and are tearing their hair out as to where to put everyone, while we have empty properties and employers who are desperate for skilled workers.”
These gestures are hopeful signs, but millions of Syrians continue in desperate situations. Fully half of the population of Syria is either dead or displaced, and the remaining struggle on in a country torn by years of war.
Emptying Syria of it's remaining residents is no solution.
We need to continue to press in—to wage peace here in the Middle East. No one chooses to be a refugee. Those fleeing want to stay in Syria, they want their homes and their communities built on hundreds of generations of life together. The bombs and bullets of war make it impossible to stay.
And so we continue–to love anyway–in the belief that one day the bombs and bullets will stop.