Sometimes it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.
I’m sorry if you hadn’t seen this picture yet and it’s just ruined your day. Maybe, like me, you went out of your way to avoid seeing it after reading the headlines. I made it all the way to 10:30pm – a few hours ago now – but decided to check facebook before going to bed. This picture was the top of my news feed above these words, “By the declining day! Humanity is Lost!”
It took me a moment to process what I was looking at, my brain frantically trying to compare the image to ones already burned into my memory. Little boy playing; little boy sleeping. Nope, this one’s new. I curled into a little ball and cried my eyes out.
So yes, I am genuinely sorry for the lack of heads up, but the truth is that reality doesn’t come with a disturbing content warning, suicide bombers don’t make appointments and IED’s don’t come with little red flags attached to them. Despite the seemingly constant reminders of terrible suffering it’s still so easy to forget that this is the world we live in. Not because we don’t care either, humans simply don’t have the emotional capacity to always feel things all the time, we have to box things up. This is the greatest privilege afforded to anyone on Earth. If I got on a plane today I could travel right up to the gates of hell and make a proper nuisance of myself. It’s that fear though, that sense of uncertainty about what we can do to help that leaves us frozen to the spot. We stop and stare, shake our heads and wring our hands and then slowly start walking again, we have to keep moving because we’re running late for something.
Look at this little boy. If we lived in a world where suffering is equally apportioned to all of humanity he might have been one of our own, a Weet-Bix kid. He wasn’t that lucky though, he was three years old and his name was Aylan Kurdi from Syria. He’s now one of the estimated ~2000 asylum seekers that we lost to the ocean just this year. I hope he was too young to fully understand the horrors his family were fleeing from. Maybe he was at least spared the knowledge of a situation so heinous it would drive people to give up everything, load their families into tiny boats and take their chances with the cold, unrelenting sea. The same fear that must have been felt by the seventy-one refugees who were left to die in the back of a truck in Austria last week. The fear that has resulted in the greatest migrant crisis the world has seen since World War II. I can’t even begin to fathom that kind of fear.
Imagine then after all this agony and loss, days of bobbing in the water with no food and no rest, if these people had made it to New Zealand’s shores somehow. Imagine them huddled down on the piers of Viaduct Harbour looking at all the smiling people sipping coffees in waterfront cafés. They’d see a country that hasn’t known the ravages of war in decades. Paradise. Compared to home? Heaven. Now imagine the toad-faced man in his hi-vis vest jostling them back onto sinking boats while garbling out noises that translate to “not welcome here, best of luck folks”. The bitter disappointment of knowing you’ve lost everything and gained absolutely nothing. This isn’t the version of my country that I want to present to the world. Not my New Zealand.
What’s holding us back then, why can’t we do more to help? Why only 750? Can we not house them? Clothe them? Feed them? Well shit, I have a couch, more clothes than I need and a pantry full of food! If we doubled the quota for refugees today you would now only need to make arrangements for 749 people. I’m serious too and I don’t for a second think I’m alone in feeling this way; if that call went out right now I wholly believe we’d have more than enough Kiwis answer it. Our damp, drafty houses are infinitely better than than the rubble these men and women left behind. A lot of people are saying it’s not about logistics though, they’re saying it’s all politics. I have to believe it’s not, I need to believe that the people in charge of our country are better humans than that. Any hesitation is only while they try to figure out the best possible approach to eventually doing the right thing. Right? I guess we’ll see. For now our PM is “softening” to the idea.
In the book of Moses, the Pharaoh finally broke and changed his mind when the angel of death robbed him of his little boy. Well humanity’s little boy just washed up on the beach of a Turkish resort town. I hope our leaders saw that picture of Aylan Kurdi lying there in the sand and I hope it shook them to the core. I hope the emotional resonance of that image transcends the desire to please some small, xenophobic constituency. I also hope that the angry crowds calling for a change in policy have the grace to not mock or take political pots shots if our leaders are willing to change their minds.
So please Mr. Key, please just raise the quota. This can’t wait until next year.
If you want to help but aren’t sure how you can, here’s a couple ways you can support financially. These are impactful groups with excellent reputations:
Also you can find out more information about the ongoing Syrian crisis at Amnesty International: https://www.amnesty.org.nz/issues/syria
I urge you though not to just throw some money in the bucket and then call it a day. Keep the conversation going. Talk to the people around you; your friends, family and colleagues. Write an email to your local MP or send them a message on social media. If you really believe it, tell them you think our country could be doing more because our nation is far stronger than the sum of it’s parts.