Every week last summer news of refugees streaming into Europe dominated global headlines. Yet it wasn’t until September 2, one year ago, that the world reacted in horror to the image of Alan Kurdi — the 3-year-old Syrian toddler who drowned trying to escape a war that was older than he was — dead on a beach in Turkey.
Sadly, the answer so far is no, and the world must do better. Since Alan died, more than 4,000 mothers, fathers, sons and daughters have died trying to make a similar journey across the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration. The situation is so dire that Save the Children, an organization for children in need, is launching a search and rescue boat to prevent children from drowning as they try to get to Italy from Africa. Globally, during the same period, the International Organization for Migration estimates that more than 6,000 migrants died attempting to find a better life.
How will history reflect on our lack of action?
Just last week, humanitarian organizations including Save the Children called for a 48-hour ceasefire in Aleppo, Syria, to allow for aid and food to reach the families under siege. That’s a first step, but political solutions to end fighting in Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan and elsewhere must remain the goal to bring about peace and to ensure that another generation of children doesn’t grow up surrounded by constant violence.
The reality is that even when such solutions do develop, not everyone who has left can or will go home. Some still do not feel safe returning. For others, their land or home is gone. For others still, there is no reason to go home because they have been permanently resettled in their new home country — earning a living, integrating into local communities and making economic and civic contributions.
Another example is Lebanon — a small country where more than 25% of the population is refugees. This country has taken in families in their time of need, but they need additional funding from the international community for extra shifts at school so more children can access quality education, vocational training and cash subsidies to avoid a rise in child labor.
After basic needs are met, few things are more beneficial than an education to help a child recover from the psychological trauma of violence. Learning inside a classroom helps children gain skills that enable them to become productive members of society and embrace a future of hope, not one overshadowed by the false promises of extremism.
Many have experienced or witnessed violence on a scale that most Americans cannot fathom. Each has a family and has had to leave a job and oftentimes a home. We need to understand that those displaced are people with great potential.