On September 18, Alan Kasujja of BBC News, gathered with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi and President and CEO of Save the Children, Carolyn Miles to discuss the refugee crisis at the annual Mashable Social Good Summit at the 92nd Street YMCA in New York.
"Who remembers what happened on the 2nd of September 2015?" asked Alan Kasujja of the audience and the speakers present. "Who remembers Alan Kurdi?" He asked everyone to take a moment to contemplate the life of every human being who we group under the legal and political term of 'refugee'. "I speak about these things very passionately because I am a refugee myself" he clarified. For him, Alan is not just another loosely grouped 'refugee' who died making his journey to Europe, he was a child, a human life with years ahead of him full of beauty and potential. Instead, Alan was plastered on newspapers worldwide as his lifeless body was found ashore the beaches of Turkey. Though his image spurred some countries to action, notably Canada, where Alan was fleeing with his brother and mother, children like Alan are suffering unimaginable injuries, dying inside Syria, at sea in the Mediterranean, or at the hands of smugglers and traffickers. As Alan Kasujja reminds us, "for every single Alan Kurdi, there are so many other children who go unreported".
The UN stopped releasing numbers of individuals killed in Syria in 2014, due to its inability to confirm deaths. The Syrian Center for Policy Research estimates there have been about 11, 688 young boys and 10,707 young girls killed since then. OCHA has estimated over 6 million Syrian children in need of humanitarian aid. As more recent images of Omran Daqneesh and this past week of Mahmoud Sawas who was found dead underneath airstrike rubble, still snug inside his father' loving arms, these obscene images have highlighted the horror of the statistics. As we grapple with sharing these images, their stories, both told and untold, and the ethics of distribution which can take on an almost pornographic quality, pressure continues to result in no end in sight to the war. As Filippo Grandi stresses "building peace is difficult, we're not so good at it anymore." 50% of refugees are children and we are failing them each and single day. As Alan Kasujja reminds us, they are the ones who have no role in starting conflicts, yet, they are bearing their brunt.
If we were to grade the world, I'm don't know if we would get even 0%
Western leaders continue to treat human life as negotiable, demonizing those stuck without options surviving constant bombing, starvation, and the always-present threat of death, as theoretical menaces ready to commit hypothetical crimes for imaginary reasons.
Meanwhile what aid is provided to those living in camps or makeshift camps as they're discouraged from going west? If the community of refugees were a country, what would this country look like for its children? It would have the 4th worst level of education and the highest for infant mortality. It would be rampant with child marriage. As a result of the Syrian war, the rate of child marriage for girls under 15 rose 160%. Human Rights Watch has documented over a thousand cases of detained and tortured children, usually between the ages of 13 and 17, but some as young as 8 in Syrian detention centers. Europol has estimated 10,000 refugee children have been reported missing and are assumed to be trafficked, exploited, raped, or used for crime. Only 1% of all refugees have been able to attend a university. Is this the future of this world's children? How do we treat our faraway brothers, sisters, and cousins full of potential for solving the world's most pressing problems such as climate change who may never have the chance because we did not invest in their safety, literacy, and health?
We are calling for no child out of learning for more than 30 days
Carolyn Miles advocates most for a sense of normalcy as the first step to psycho-social support to children fleeing war and persecution. "The best way to get people out of trauma is hope" and for children this means playing games, expressing themselves through the arts, and having the opportunity to finally be children, for adults this means agency, jobs, and resettlement. As Miles underscores,
the US refugee resettlement goal, though the bar has been lifted higher, is "still a pathetically small number", particularly for a country with the highest GDP in the world.
Alan Kasujja's native country of Uganda is one example of a country that does not have one of the highest GDPs in the world, Uganda ranks 103rd out of 195 countries, and yet provides as many opportunities as it can for refugees. The government has shown leadership on the refugee crisis because today's leaders were yesterday's refugees, including President Yoweri Museveni and his cabinet. They are aware of the difficulties but also the successes of being a refugee. Given the soil to prosper and the room to grow, the seeds of change can blossom into wonders of prosperity.
All children are very vulnerable when they become refugees
Although the New York Declaration provides for three significant changes that would address the needs of children in the crisis, such as ensuring all children receive an education within a few months of arrival, the practice of detaining children for the purposes of determining their migration status is ended, and that there is prevention as well as response to sexual and gender-based violence, a comprehensive response for leadership and responsibility, is tabled until 2018, when some of the proposed Comprehensive Refugee Response (CRR) framework can be evaluated. As for the root causes of the crisis, the war in Syria particularly, the atrocities committed under Assad, with the support of state actors like Russia and Iran, and non-state actors like Hezbollah, have been left to continue and yet another ceasefire has been treated like a stunt. How many more children will know nothing more than war in their short lives?