Last week, #HumanityWashedAshore and the world’s eyes opened.
A 3-year-old died tragically and our hearts broke collectively. The grief we feel is real and warranted and even necessary, because feeling deeply makes us uncomfortable, and that discomfort propels us into motion. “Why is this happening? What can I do? How can I help?” we asked, even though it’s been happening for years and reported on continuously. Sometimes the only way to get our attention is with toddlers and kittens.
Regarding the why: It’s a complex situation in a complicated region, and the political solution will require international cooperation. But we can all look at our role in the tragedy, because the truth is, if we participate in this modern world we have blood on our hands. As Audrey Quinn and Jackie Roche explained in their 2011 collaborative comic, “Syria’s Climate Conflict,” environmental changes have played a pivotal role in destabilizing the region, and we have each contributed to that mess.
What can we do? The intangible answers are simple (love) and the tangible ones multifaceted. Before we close our eyes again, or numb our grief, or a kitten crosses our screen, let’s talk about it.
First of all, if we have money, we can send it. Well-known charity groups include UHNCR, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, International Red Cross and Save the Children. But smaller groups are helping, too: Migrant Offshore Aid Station, Refugees Welcome, Worldwide Tribe in Calais, Small Projects Istanbul, Karam Foundation, and Hand in Hand for Syria. We can find more ways to contribute financially on the website of The Independent.
If we have time, we can share it. Get a plane ticket and cross the pond (but wait a few weeks — they’re inundated right now). Bring along food, clothes, books, items for shelter, toiletries. Or rent a van at the airport and pick up goods from designated drop spots on the drive out. The Facebook group Calais Migrant Solidarity Action from the U.K. has more information and suggests that helpers expect to spend a week in Calais.
Syria has become the planet’s largest source of refugees. Four million people have fled the country, 6.5 million are displaced inside its borders, with thousands more fleeing daily and no end in sight. The International Rescue Committee has asked the United States to resettle 65,000 Syrian refugees by the end of next year. Germany — a country one quarter the size of the U.S. — is expected to integrate 800,000 asylum-seekers this year, and can continue accepting 500,000 annually for several years. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the country could afford the influx without raising taxes or taking on new debt. Sweden, the EU country sheltering the second-highest number of refugees, has offered permanent residency to all Syrians who have already been granted temporary residency, extended the right to bring their families along, and proffered free bus passes to help with travel. France has agreed to shelter 26,000, and Spain will take in 16,000.
Guess how many Syrians the U.S. — one of the largest, richest countries in the world — will have accepted by the end of this year? One-thousand eight hundred. That is disgraceful.
As David Miliband outlined in his March 19 opinion piece for The Washington Post, this is what needs to happen in the U.S. and what we should ask for in our letter:
(1) Request that the resettlement cap to accommodate Syrian refugees be raised.
(2) Request that the Department of Homeland Security issue needed guidance on “material support” waivers created in 2014, thus avoiding delays and denials to Syrians who have committed no wrongs.
(3) Request that a family reunification mechanism enable Syrian-Americans to bring extended family to safety more quickly.
Let yourself be moved by the photo of the 3-year-old. Cry, ache, feel it deep in our bones. Let humanity wash ashore our heart. Then let yourself be moved in the world — globally and locally — because the world needs both our heart and our hands.
writes from Frederick.