Wednesday, September 9, 2015

We Are People Too

An exhausted child lies in his mother’s arms as she walks alongside tens of thousands of Syrians, toward a chance to escape the barrel bombs, beheadings, and destruction of cities and towns that once were home. 

Finally, the world is taking notice of the men, women and children who risk their lives to cross oceans in unseaworthy boats, who with grit and determination, walk hundreds of miles in the hope of a life away from violence; a chance to start over.   We woke up, thanks to the image of a little boy lying face down at the edge of a sea that swallowed his mother and brother. 

Why did it take us so long?  Why are governments reacting only now? We weren’t listening, that’s why.  We ignored the stories of children in detention camps refusing to eat, screaming from nightmares. We did not acknowledge the hopelessness of men in off-shore detention centers who sewed up their lips hoping to escape conditions far worse than what they had fled. We called them ‘those people’, ‘it’ and ‘asylum seekers penetrating our borders’ - dehumanizing language that stripped away the tragic stories of people who could be us.

When I look at the pictures and listen to the stories of Syrians and Iraqi’s fleeing the war, I see my mother. Her mother and many in her family had been brutally murdered in Nazi-occupied Poland. In 1946, she was smuggled from the rubble of a destroyed Warsaw and flown across the Communist border to Germany, where for a time she slept in the barracks of a D.P. camp inside the former Dachau concentration camp. Two years later she boarded a ship for Australia.  

 It wasn’t easy to integrate into Australia as traumatized Jewswith a German-sounding last name and my mother yelling in German at the children in the playground when they couldn’t understand her. 
Image:Leonhard Foeger/Reuters  Syrians in Hungary
The solution to today’s refugee crisis isn’t easy, but by acknowledging the refugees as human and their suffering as real, we’ve crossed a major barrier.  We can start an open conversation on how to address the fears that exist when we don’t understand the culture and religion of a people that need our help.  We can learn about their suffering and take action.  Because, people, we are human too. 

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