Today I heard John Key say on the radio that he can feel sympathy as much as the next person in seeing the tragic pictures that have dominated our media in recent days – of children drowned, of lives so unnecessarily lost. But he countered this with a statement that were we to consider increasing our quota of refugees, he first needed to ensure sufficient supports and infrastructure would be in place.
Against my own better judgment, I thought he made a reasonably considered statement. Having relatively recently supported a family who were refugees from Myanmar in their transition to New Zealand life, I have some insight into the challenges faced during resettlement, and the accompanying infrastructure, support and services that are required.
But later this evening, I was absolutely stopped in my tracks when I saw on social media the now infamous photo. The body of a tiny wee boy, lying still on the foreshore. His body had been returned by the sea that took him, when his boat capsized mere miles from its departure point. I have never in my life had such a gut wrenching reaction to a post on social media. I suppose like the average Westerner in 2015, I’m pretty desensitised to the tragedies I read and hear about every day. But something about this picture turned my heart inside out. This boy could be my nephew; he could be your son; he could be the noisy little kid that goes to preschool down the road. Less than a month ago, I was travelling through this part of the world – but the circumstances of my trip could not have been more of a contrast to those of the desperate passengers aboard this boat.
In light of this tragedy, I can think of nothing less humane, and nothing more unnecessarily bureaucratic, than the precious time that will be wasted in deliberating whether New Zealand (not to mention other, far closer states) can increase its quota. This devastating story represents hundreds of thousands of equally tragic stories in the crisis that is currently taking place across our world, that are no less compelling, and that have no less of a human face to them.
I feel compelled to act, yet absolutely powerless. But in writing this, I take the lead from Chris Clarke who I heard speak at TEDx Manukau on Monday. Chris Clarke is the CEO of World Vision New Zealand, and he told his own, equally heart-breaking story of Syria. Chris reminded us that when you see injustice before you, you can get upset, you can get angry, and you can shake your fist about it. Or you can choose to open your hands and take action in whatever way you can. Step, by step, by small incremental step, you can contribute to justice and fairness being reinstated in the world. It sounds a bit hopeful to me, but it’s preferable to sitting here and doing nothing.
This is fundamentally a human issue before it is a political one, and I earnestly hope that this time, the will of humanity will take precedence over politicking. New Zealand could be Syria, could be England, could be Somalia. We have New Zealanders offering to accommodate families in their homes. 15,000 Icelanders are doing the same. The British public is fiercely spreading the #refugeeswelcome message in a bid to get decision makers to act. This crisis has been caused by people. So there is no doubt that the solution is in the same hands.
No-one, by virtue of their country of residence, should have claim to entitlement or privilege over another. It’s our duty, as those who are blessed in where they live, to defend our fellow humans. If you’re reading this, you are one of the lucky ones. And therefore I urge you to use your power, in whatever way you can. Raising our voices as citizens of the world until they are impossible to ignore is the only thing that is going to lead to genuine change.
I haven’t republished the photo out of respect for the child and his family.