This morning my six month old woke at 5.15am and my three year old woke at 5.30am.
I was tired and I felt myself becoming irritated.
And then I stopped. Because my two precious boys had woken up. I am blessed that, this morning, my babies woke up, climbed into our bed, drank milk and we all got dressed. Daddy took the eldest to nursery in the car and I got up and fed the baby breakfast.
It’s a normal day. A bit boring even? In two hours, I will go and pick up my boy from nursery and we will drive home, play and go to bed.
But not everyone is that lucky.
This week we have seen the most harrowing pictures in the news of three year old Aylan Kurdi whose lifeless body was pictured washed up face down on the shores of Turkey, whilst his mother Rehan and five year old brother Ghalib had also died fleeing Syria. His father Abdullah has survived but said he just wants to be buried next to his family. He talked of his ‘beautiful boys’ and how ‘they woke me up to play with them’.
He would give anything for his boys to wake him up tomorrow. He would give anything to be lying next to his wife tomorrow morning. But that won’t happen.
Abdullah took the ultimate risk to flee his country. He and his family risked their lives to escape. And their lives were claimed in the process.
And this made me think; what must their life have been like in Syria for them to pay nearly £3000, to climb onto a 5 metre long dinghy with nothing but the clothes on their backs, to travel across oceans to knock on the door of a country who might slam that door in their face?
I don’t take my children out without thick coats at the risk of them getting cold in the winter. I don’t let them out in the sun without wearing factor 50 at the risk of them getting burnt in the summer. Would I pack them on a boat, without any idea of their access to food, drink, warmth and shelter to endure a journey, the like of which has already claimed the lives of thousands of migrants?
Would I take them from their house, their bed, their school to potentially render them homeless in a foreign country?
Would I run the risk of me, myself, falling ill and leaving my children without their mother either literally ‘at sea’, or proverbially ‘at sea’, miles from home in a place where they cannot make themselves understood and cannot understand the people around them?
I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. Unless I was desperate.
And there it is. These people are desperate. They haven’t just popped over on a whim to ‘steal’ people’s jobs and get a free house. In fact, Aylan’s family were trying to make it all the way to Canada; you don’t decide to give all you have in an attempt at an unplanned journey halfway across the world unless you feel you have no other choice. A parent doesn’t put their children on a boat if the land is safer than the sea.
Don’t misunderstand me – I have seen footage of migrants at Calais physically attacking people in vehicles to ‘encourage’ them to stow and smuggle them. I do not condone this. And perhaps there are a small minority who want to come here and live off the government without contributing to life in Britain.
But I truly believe that this is not the case for the vast majority. They don’t dream of getting a free house and an easy life.
They dream of freedom and a life where they don’t live every day in fear. They dream of an easier life than the one they are currently living; one where there is the threat that a bomb could explode at their child’s school and they might never see them again. When we sent our little boy off to nursery this morning, we were not worried that he might not come home this evening. We were not praying all day that we could pick him up as usual. We were not listening for explosions and dreading the worst.
They dream of dropping their children off at school and saying goodbye, without wondering if that goodbye is forever.
I am a teacher. Last year I taught a little girl whose father had fled the Middle East twelve years ago. He told me his story at a parents evening and when he left I cried. He had arrived here with only his passport and the clothes he was wearing. He had already met his wife but had told her he would come back for her once he had, hopefully, set up a life in Britain.
From having just one passport and one outfit, speaking limited English and having little education, this man has made himself a wonderful life. He went back for his wife and they now have two beautiful little girls. He has a good job, he pays taxes. He owns a house. His children speak English perfectly but are bilingual in this and their family’s first language. They go to birthday parties, they are learning to read and write and they can play in their garden without their parents worrying that they might not make it back inside.
Contrast that to other children I have taught. Whose parents were born in Britain and have lived here their entire lives. They don’t work. They have a house paid for by the government; by taxes; taxes the man above is contributing to.
Who deserves to be here the most? The answer: they both deserve the chance of a good life. Do either of them deserve to die? The answer: no.
And you know who definitely doesn’t deserve to die? The children. The children like Aylan and Ghalib who had no part in the decision to flee. The children who were, without doubt, the catalyst for many of these people making such a decision. These people are desperate but they are human. They wouldn’t risk the lives of their children for a free house if they felt like they had an easier, better alternative.
So whilst I sit here, having had a ‘boring’ day, having been woken up ‘too early’ by children who just want to be with me, I’ll remind myself how lucky I am.
Lucky that I’m not faced with the dilemma of sleeping in my house tonight, knowing it could be raided or bombed at any moment, or flinging my family onto a boat not knowing when we will drink, eat or see land again.
Lucky that I do not live in fear that I might drop my son off at nursery for him never to return.
Lucky that I can nip to the shop, to see friends and family, to a restaurant for dinner, without fear.
I don’t have any answers. I know simply ‘letting everyone in’ is not a sustainable solution. But I also know that ‘keeping everyone out’ is not a compassionate one.
I’m not here telling people what to think or how to feel. I’m simply saying what I think and how I feel. Some people will feel the same. Some will feel differently. That’s ok. We are all different.
But we are all human.
And we should consider how we would expect other human beings to treat us if we were as desperate as Aylan’s family.
Tonight I will hug my children a little longer and a little tighter before they go to bed. And as I kiss my three year old goodnight, swearing in my heart to always protect him from danger and give him the best life I possibly can, I’ll think of Abdullah and his three year, and how he no doubt thought the exact same things I do.
I’m just lucky that it’s a lot easier for me to protect him. To give him a good life.
And I’ll think of little Aylan and hope that his death has not been in vain. That it has reminded us of the very human nature of the migrant ‘crisis’.
And that, at least now, he is free.