It was a picture that painted a thousand words: a photograph of a three-year-old Syrian boy, lying face down on a Turkish beach. His name was Aylan Kurdi.
Last week, the world recoiled in horror and anguish over images of his lifeless body washed up on a beach in Bodrum. He had drowned—along with his five-year-old brother and 35-year-old mother—after their flimsy rubber raft overturned in the choppy Mediterranean Sea as they were making their perilous escape from Turkey to Greece on September 2. His father was the only family member who survived.
The heartbreaking images of the tiny human being personalized the Syrian refugee crisis and highlighted a problem that had been building up for years. The photographer from Turkey’s Dogan News Agency who captured the pictures of Aylan said her blood “froze” when she saw him lying on the beach, and the only thing she could do was to “make his scream heard”.
Indeed, as many observed, Aylan’s death was not just an unfortunate tragedy—it was also a reminder of the careless attitude, inaction, and failure on the part of wealthier nations to help the millions of refugees fleeing war-torn homelands in the Middle East and Africa and hoping to find a new life elsewhere.
Some countries in the region came under fierce criticism for offering little support—such as asylum spots—to the refugees. Some claimed the influx of refugees would upset the racial and religious balance of their local populations, while one church leader even reportedly said that churches could not shelter refugees as they would then be considered “human traffickers”.
But Aylan’s death appears to have turned hearts round. The images have raised awareness of the state of affairs in Syria and galvanized public support for refugees all over Europe. Britain, for example, said that it would take in more Syrian refugees, while Pope Francis implored Catholic institutions across Europe to offer shelter to them. Online, concern for the Syrians has made the hashtag #refugeeswelcome viral on Twitter.
The recent response to this heartrending humanitarian crisis has been encouraging. It is also a strong reminder of the importance of collective effort in helping to solve the problem—and of how the church should be at the forefront of these efforts. James 1:27 tells us: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
So, if you’re a Christian living in any one of the European countries that have committed to taking in refugees, would you step forward and render help in some way or another?
But what if you live tens of thousands of kilometres away from the crisis—what can you do? Well, if this is the first time you’re hearing about the crisis, would you take a few minutes to read up about what’s happening? Perhaps you might be convicted to pray for peace in Syria, for comfort for the people suffering, for perseverance of our fellow believers undergoing persecution, and for strength for those laboring to help those affected.
Or, perhaps you might be moved to find out what relief efforts are being carried out near you, and to support the humanitarian work in different ways, such as donating money, fundraising, volunteering at events to raise awareness, etc.
Let not Aylan’s silent scream be in vain.
Syrian refugee crisis
Millions of people have been fleeing their homes because of civil war in Syria and the rise of ISIS. The numbers—an estimated 12 million—have prompted some to describe the current refugee crisis as the worst humanitarian disaster of our time.
The Syria civil war began in early 2011, after a violent government crackdown sparked anti-government demonstrations. Half of the 12 million people displaced by the fighting are believed to be children.
Over the past few years, hundreds of thousands of refugees have attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea—the perilous journey—from the Middle East to the west, in hopes of starting a new life in Europe.
Photo Credit: ABC News reporter Muhammad Lila / Source