U.S. assistance for Syrian refugees is vital

By Rebekah Devorak | Opinions Editor

Children are supposed to grow up playing with toys, eating too much sugar and wondering how far Cinderella lives from their house.

They’re not supposed to drown while fleeing a corner of the world that’s been devastated by warfare between the Islamic State and a handful of opposing forces.

They’re not supposed to wash up on the shores of a Turkish beach resort like what happened to Aylan Kurdi. He was 3 years old.

The New York Times reported that Aylan’s father Abdullah Kurdi, mother Rehan and brother Ghalib, 5, were fleeing by boat from Istanbul in hopes of reaching Greece. However instead of a motorboat like the father was promised, the family was forced to cross the Mediterranean Sea in a 15-foot inflatable raft that capsized in the tumultuous waves. Aylan, Rehan and Ghalib all drowned.

This instance is merely another heartbreaking example of a plight that has been raging in the Middle East for more than four years now.

According to the United Nations, more than 11 million people have been displaced by the Syrian Civil War since 2011. UNICEF estimates that more than 7.5 million are children under the age of 18, most of whom have been without access to proper education for years.

In most cases, the oldest children are forced to grow up too early in desperation to find jobs that will support their families. The youngest children grow up confused, without education and without a sense of home or safety.

These children are the future of the world. One day they could be political leaders, mothers and fathers, teachers or doctors. It will be their jobs to decide how to make the world a better place. They are just as important as the children living in America or Europe, yet it takes a little boy drowning for freedom to spark realization and action abroad.

These Syrian children right now aren’t getting the help they deserve. Their families are doing the best that they can given the circumstances, but are limited in their options: They can either remain in their hometowns which are plagued by frequent attacks, flee to refugee camps with dismal living conditions or leave behind everything with the intentions of making it to Western Europe.

On their own they cannot provide the proper lifestyle that these children need, which includes access to education, safe living conditions, basic food and water or even just a sense of security and stability.

Aylan’s story pushed countries like the United Kingdom to accept more refugees into its borders; U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron announced Sept. 7 that it would be taking in 20,000 refugees by 2020. France similarly announced earlier that it would be taking 24,000 refugees over the next two years, according to BBC News.

While this is a promising start, more can be done.

The United States should have a prime role in helping the Syrian refugees. As a country that likes to lead by example for the rest of the world to follow, we have failed in leading the aid for the Syrians. The Guardian reported that only one of the 22 presidential candidates it contacted – former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley – agrees that the U.S. needs to take in more refugees. That is simply unacceptable.

These refugees – and their children – are leaving behind everything they have ever known to escape oppression and violence for a chance at living a free life. This story sounds reminiscent of how our own country came to be and we should be sympathetic. According to Fox News, the U.S. accepted 1,000 Syrian refugees this year, but that isn’t enough to have a positive effect when more than 11 million are in need of help.

If the United States stands firm against accepting Syrian refugees into our borders, then we must financially assist the European nations that are.

A major reason why presidential candidates are saying “no” to accepting Syrian refugees is because of the Islamic State threat. Citizens also think it shouldn’t be the United States’ responsibility to help with every issue. But this is not a test of our politics – it’s a test of our humanity. It’s a test of how well we can put aside our own needs for a moment, when we already have so much that makes our lives full in this nation, so that those children with nothing may have a little chance at hope.

Some may say that the most humane thing for U.S. citizens is to protect them from the Islamic State threat. While this is legitimate, there are plenty of safe ways to accept Syrians and still monitor for terrorists.

The quicker that the United States and countries in Europe act, the fewer stories like Aylan’s will be echoing around the world.