When the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi hit the shores of Turkey, the world was reminded of two significant matters: The plight of being a refugee, along with the fact that it is children who are the most affected.
People mourned Aylan and returned to their daily lives. Most of them even had no idea of the thousands of innocent children and refugees who lost their lives on the seas and washed up on the shores after Aylan.
The fact that this tragedy does not take place at our doorstep or that it does not befall us does not mean that it is not happening. Refugees are still experiencing the same hardships. Not much has changed in the wake of the inadequate measures taken. A report prepared by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) states that 2,850 refugees have drowned in the sea since the beginning of 2016 through June 15.
The month of June already began with a tragedy when a boat filled with 700 migrants sank and many of them are feared dead. As we approach the end of June, we witness that the number of people drowning in the sea is growing exponentially. Ironically, June 20 was observed as the World Refugee Day.
According to UNHCR data, the number of refugees who were able to reach the EU since the beginning of the year through June 4 is 206,200. Moreover, one out of every three refugees is a child. While it is quite dreadful for a child to embark on such a perilous journey, statistics present an even more shocking picture. Nine out of every 10 children do not have their parents by their side — they are all by themselves! According to estimates, around 7,000 children tried to reach Italy en route North Africa without any supervision in the first five months of 2016. These orphaned children, however young they may be, set out alone on a dangerous journey. Unsurprisingly, they are the ones who are the most abused and who face the most hardships. UNICEF’s latest report states that there is “strong evidence that criminal human trafficking networks were targeting the most vulnerable, in particular women and children.”
“Italian social workers claim that both boys and girls are sexually assaulted and forced into prostitution while in Libya and that some of the girls were pregnant when they arrived in Italy, having been raped,” it added.
These unattended children’s resistance to such abhorrent maltreatment results in even frightful oppression. 16-year-old Aimamo speaks about this cruelty: “If you try to run, they shoot you and you die. If you stop working, they beat you. It was just like the slave trade.”
According to UNICEF figures, the number of unaccompanied children traveling from North Africa to Italy so far this year is more than the last year. This is an assessment that presents the gravity of the situation in places where these refugees come from. There are so many children who are left as orphans and are vulnerable after losing their parents that they want to flee from the land of their birth, even if they are alone. They work on croplands under horrible conditions, leave themselves to human traffickers and are subjected to various abuses and go even further on more horrible adventures.
Those unescorted minors who manage to reach Europe are not all fortunate to find a refuge. Temporary shelters or gymnasiums are not warm homes for these innocent souls. The psychology and education of these children who do not have families or homes and who are far away from their country is not even on the agenda. On top of it all, xenophobic attacks and the hate speeches these refugees are forced to hear, along with their marginalization and social stigmatization make life even harder for them.
The problem right before our eyes is not just that of the refugees, it is the lost generation that comes along with it. This generation had to meet the cruel and inhumane side of the world before they even entered proper childhood. Imagine the nightmare and abuse that a little child, who does not know anything about life and who has tragically lost his parents, experiences at the hands of human traffickers, and the abuse and horror he goes through. Anyone who does not want this for his own children should not consent to it for other children either. Children, wherever they are, whatever language they speak, are innocent, and they are our responsibility, that is, responsibility of the people with a solid conscience and sound sense.
While some European countries are closing their doors to refugees and some Swiss villages calculating how to get rid of this “burden” by paying for tax instead of taking in 5 refugees, these incidents are over and done with. Certainly there are people who do not want to remain as onlookers of this tragedy. However, no one has the power to handle such oppression by himself. That is why we need to unite. The conscientious people who are determined to end this oppression need to act together like a single body; this will be sufficient to rescue this lost generation. Even if they are few in number, those who are good will be powerful and effective when united.
For this reason, the good people should work together to bring an end to these artificial conflicts and send the world a message that “we are united against oppression.” Especially the Muslim countries have no obstacle to send this message together. The huge power of the united Muslim world will surely eradicate the mindset that sees oppression as fair. For this, God wants us just to get into action.
Adnan Oktar's piece in Arab News: