Watching thousands of desperate refugees pour through European borders, you’d be forgiven for thinking the photos were in fact stills from some new apocalyptic blockbuster movie. Faces etched in desperation, fear and grief, they don’t care where they end up – it can only be better than what they’re fleeing from.
Yesterday, in between all the first day of school pictures of children who won the geographic lottery, another photo went viral. One of a small boy whose tiny body washed up on the Turkish coast. Three year old Aylan Kurdi and his five year old brother Galip both perished in the Aegean Sea along with their mother, while trying to make their way west. Today, pictures of his body adorn the front pages of most European newspapers, with an international outcry of grief, shock and anger that the crisis has gone so far.
European leaders are facing mounting pressure to get something resembling a plan of action together. German authorities in Munich have already had to ask people to stop bringing food and clothing to refugees arriving at the city’s train station after they became inundated with donations from the general public, such was the desire to help people in their hour of dire need. They have taken in some 73,000 asylum seekers since the start of the year. In comparison, the United Kingdom has taken 7,300. To listen to some of their media outlets and the accompanying comments, you would think they were being told they were taking 730,000.
The Daily Mail, long regarded as British Media’s sphincter by anyone who is not a sociopath, has always had a fairly right-wing attitude towards immigration in general; even when these immigrants came from countries previously occupied by the United Kingdom.
The Mail ran a story during the week about how two babies have been born in Budapest train station to refugee women. The babies had been named Sadan (Shelter) and Shems (Hope), a testament to the belief that these families have that their children herald a safe new beginning for them. Commenters on the piece asked why on earth these women had gotten pregnant in the midst of such turmoil, as if the reproductive choices of these people was any of their business. Fleeing your country due to psychotic and murderous fundamentalists makes you and your biological clock fair game, it would seem.
Just when did the United Kingdom lose so much of its empathy? Ireland is already ready and willing to accept over 1,000 Syrian and Eritrean refugees over the next two years, despite the fact that we’re still in recovery from economic hardship ourselves. A demonstration, calling on the government to take many more in is due to take place in Dublin City Centre this Saturday. A sizeable portion of Britain seems to hold the belief that they are the end-goal for these desperate people; those who are so frantic to find safe-haven that they are cramming into the backs of articulated lorries, unsure if they will arrive alive. David Cameron is now caught between a rock and a hard place; his promises of reducing immigration during his election campaign may now force him to look utterly heartless if he upholds them.
It is too late for Aylan and Galip, as well as countless other children and adults. The heartbreaking and disturbing pictures of Aylan’s body never should have needed to go viral – is he any less human than Jamie Bolger? Photographs of his corpse were not on the cover of our tabloids. Aylan, had he been born a few thousand miles West, should have been posing for photos with a tearful mother as she packed him off to playschool for the first time.
This is the biggest movement of people since World War II. The West didn’t intervene fast enough back then, but it could be argued that we didn’t know just how bad it could get or what mankind was capable of. What’s our excuse this time?