I can’t sleep. I foolishly checked my phone before bed, and stumbled across the harrowing images of a drowned Syrian refugee. Aylan, three years old. He drowned along with his mother and five year old brother as they tried to reach Europe. They fled from Syria after their town became a warzone overrun with IS militants. But they never reached safety.
I can’t imagine what that’s like. For the town you live in to suddenly feel unsafe. To not be able to go to the shop to buy food for fear of fighting. To try and soothe your child to sleep while guns fire in the distance. To worry that soldiers could force their way into my home. To know that people from my community have died and suffered in the attacks. To know that I could be next.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to leave your home under those circumstances, when it becomes clear that the danger is worsening and things aren’t going to get better. Deciding to leave your home and all of your belongings behind, taking only what you can carry. Photographs and keepsakes all abandoned in the haste.
I can’t imagine not knowing where to go, or how to get there, but knowing that fleeing was my best chance to keep my family safe. How would I even begin to explain that to my three year old? How do you stay positive and try to stop them feeling scared? How can you do that when you have no idea where you are going or what will be waiting for you when you get there?
I can’t imagine standing by the ocean, knowing that the rickety boat in front of me is my only chance to get to a safe country. Knowing that so many before me have failed. Knowing that the sea is wild and dangerous, and having to persuade my three year old to climb aboard anyway. Because it’s our only way out and there is no going back.
I can’t even begin to imagine the desperation and fear a mother must feel as she boards one of those ships with her children. Hoping that everything will be ok. Because surely, after everything, it will be. If we can just get over this last hurdle, if we can reach safety, then it will all be ok. We’ll be safe.
Only it isn’t.
The photographs of Aylan may have gone viral, but they are far from unique. Thousands of other people have met the same fate this year. People. Not migrants. Not a crisis. Not a situation. People. Like me. Like you. Like my three year old daughter asleep upstairs in her bed. The one I will go and kiss on the forehead before I go to bed, because I can. Because she's here, she's safe.
Boats have sunk. Mothers, like me, have tried desperately to keep their babies afloat, hoping that help will come soon. Children have died. Not migrants. Children. And they keep drowning, because we are refusing to help them.
Four million people have had to leave Syria because of the war. The UK has accepted 200 Syrian refuges. Just 200. We live in a country filled with empty houses, and yet people are drowning because we will not offer them somewhere to live.
As we sleep safe in our beds tonight, more mothers will be carrying their babies onto boats. Maybe some of them will make it to Europe’s shores. Maybe others won’t. But one thing’s for certain, we should be offering a home to these families fleeing from the dangers of war. We should be welcoming them, caring for them and helping them. Only then can we sleep soundly.