You don’t know me, and now you never will, but there are things that I want to say to you even though you’ll never hear them.
The first thing I want to say is that I’m sorry. When I saw the picture of you, washed up on a stretch of Turkish beach, I wept — and the world wept with me. I am sorry that we failed you, that you did not find the refuge you so desperately needed.
I can only imagine what your life was like. In your three short years I wonder whether you ever knew the sort of peaceful coexistence my children enjoy every day, living in a society that has never experienced the harsh and harrowing realities of modern warfare on our home soil. I do know that you had a brother, Galib, and parents who loved you both so much that they made the inordinately difficult decision to leave their homeland and search for a better life. A life without bombing. Without war. Without privation. Without the incessant presence of danger — real, actual, life-threatening danger.
Aylan, I wish you had made it to safety. I wish that it did not take seeing the photograph of your lifeless body to galvanise support around the world for the thousands of human beings who are fleeing five years of relentless, ruthless warfare and are seeking a safe haven. Somewhere. Anywhere.
But I am grateful that even though you didn’t get to see it, people around the world have stood up for you. They wiped away their tears and showed each other what humanity is, nowhere more so than in Germany where, as Geoffrey Robertson so eloquently put it, “the grandchildren of the Gestapo became the angels of mercy”. And the world wept again, but this time they were tears of hope.
These people showed the world what leadership looks like, Aylan. It looks like the people who greeted the displaced thousands flooding into their country with applause, with toys and sweets, with open arms. It looks like the people who waited on roadsides handing out care packages of much needed food and water. It looks like the people who drove their cars across the Hungarian border to pick up the asylum seekers who were still walking to safety. It looks like Angela Merkel.
I am sorry — no, I am ashamed — that such leadership has been sorely lacking at the highest levels of government in my own country, and that our prime minister — in whose electorate I reside — seems to have lost himself in a mire of bureaucratic bullshit, crapping on about quotas and proportions, and crowing about stopping the boats.
A humanitarian crisis should never be turned into a political issue, but in Australia, our prime minister’s lack of compassion and basic concern for his fellow human beings is doing that faster than any parliamentary debate ever could. It seems that he has not only forgotten Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution“, but that he has also failed to recall Article 1:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Aylan, even though you will never speak again, I promise that I will keep speaking up for you and for the thousands of people seeking refuge, just as you did. I will stand up and say, over and over again, that refugees should be made welcome in this country. I will honour that spirit of brotherhood, of humanity.
I will remember you, Aylan.
May you rest in peace.