Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/9/2015 (1443 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — It is the most talked-about photograph in the world this week.
I am surely not the only one who was kept awake Wednesday night by the image of the lifeless body of a tiny boy in a red shirt, lying facedown on a beach.
A boy who at first glance seemed to be about the same age and size as my own child.
As I stood over my son last night while he slept, curled up in his favourite blanket, garbed in his prized hockey pajamas, it was nearly impossible to imagine the desperation that led that boy’s family to attempt to cross the Aegean Sea in a small boat in rough waters.
And one of my first thoughts, as I stared at the picture of this boy, unable to hold back the tears, was that he, like the vast majority of the four million Syrian refugees who have fled their homes since the conflict in their country began, would remain a nameless victim of a distant war.
But he is not.
His name, we learned, was Alan Kurdi. He was three years old. He and his father, Abdullah Kurdi, his mother, Rehan, and his five-year-old brother Galib, were on a small boat travelling from Turkey to the Greek Island of Kos, hoping to make their way to Canada. When their boat capsized, Alan, his brother and his mother all drowned.
It’s not entirely clear why this particular photograph of a little boy in a red T-shirt has had such reach.
There have been other photos, many other images of desperate, distraught people. But for some reason, this one is the one that is sticking.
It was widely published by media outlets, shared rapidly on social media.
It pushed the Canadian election campaign off the rails, compelling Conservative leader Stephen Harper to postpone his planned infrastructure announcement, and turning the sights of NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau onto immigration policy.
Conservative immigration minister Chris Alexander, who is running for re-election in a suburban Toronto riding, on Wednesday defended the government and accused the media of not paying enough attention to the refugee crisis. On Thursday morning, after reports Alan and his family had applied to come to Canada but had been rejected, and that their file had been placed right in Alexander’s own hands by an NDP MP, Alexander suspended his campaign to fly back to Ottawa and figure out what happened (it later emerged that Canada had not received an application from Alan's father Abdullah, but rather from Abdullah's brother Mohammed, who had been rejected).
The situation with the Kurdis is murky. Now it appears perhaps they didn’t apply for status in Canada although their family’s story may have still been placed right on Alexander’s desk.
But in the end it doesn’t matter.
Alan Kurdi is the face of a global crisis that we all bear responsibility to solve. This is not Canada’s cross to bear alone, but the world has been here before and Canada has stepped up.
More than 60,000 Vietnamese refugees, the so-called boat people, were resettled in Canada in less than two years in 1979 and 1980. Harper is even considering commemorating this period with a special day.
Most of them had no ties to Canada, no family here, and no language skills.
Their struggle to settle has been well documented but the fact remains, when one million people fled Vietnam after the Vietnam War, Canada was one of the countries that stepped up the most to help.
In the spring of 1999, when about one million Kosovars had become homeless and stateless following war, Canada admitted more than 7,000 refugees in just a few months. About 2,000 had family connections here, but the rest were emergency evacuees, the first time Canada had ever participated in such a program.
They arrived in a matter of weeks, on chartered planes, and were housed on military bases until sponsors were found, accommodations secured and furniture and household goods were supplied by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Most of these families ultimately remained in Canada but many arrived wishing to go home eventually.
Compare that to last year, when Canada admitted 1,300 Syrian refugees. It has a new goal to admit 10,000 over the next three years.
There are 11 million Syrians who have been displaced due to war, nearly four million now in refugee camps in other countries. It’s not just Syria. There are an estimated four million displaced Iraqis, three million from Afghanistan, and millions more from African nations like Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.
Every day, hundreds of people like the Kurdis put their lives on the line to attempt to flee to a better life.
That something needs to be done and done quickly has never been more clear.
Mia Rabson is the Free Press parliamentary bureau chief.