It’s the 3rd September 2015 at 7:30pm. I am in Holywell Bay, Cornwall at the end of my holiday with my wife, my 3 sons, aged 9, 5 and 5, and my daughter who is 10 months old. I am not actually required to vacate the static caravan on the holiday park until 10am on the 4th September but experience has taught me that travelling long journeys, around 260 miles in this case, with young children can be difficult and so I hope that they will sleep for most of the way. Also travelling at night gives me a better chance of making the whole journey without running into traffic.
It is good decision. My youngest children fall promptly to sleep and, with the radio off and no traffic, the journey is a peaceful and uneventful one. The rolling roads of Cornwall offer great views of the countryside as dusk approaches, and it is only when we finally reach the motorway that darkness completely falls. It is these moments of long periods of quiet that I enter an almost meditative state, where driving becomes a robotic task. As I automatically overtake slower vehicles with ease, I allow my mind to wander and contemplate other things, drifting from subject to subject. Or that is what normally happens, but not this time. You see this time my mind is focussed singularly on one subject and I cannot, nor want to, move off it. This morning I picked up a newspaper, The Independent, and saw an image on the front cover. I don’t normally buy newspapers as, due to the wonders of modern technology, the Internet is available in my pocket at all times of the day. But due to the hills around my location there was no reception, and so I was cut-off so to speak from the outside world. As I stared transfixed at the image on the front of the paper, I caught another image out of the corner of my eye on the front of another newspaper. I slowly lowered the paper I was holding and gazed at the shelf; every front page carried a similar image.
Earlier that week, or maybe the week before, another father had decided to make a journey with his wife and 2 sons, aged 5 and 3. What prompted his decision to make that journey was not the same as mine. I doubt that he carefully decided what clothes he could fit into the roof box of his car, or what sweets would keep the children placated on such a long trip. As the night passed me by, I glanced in the mirror at my family sitting behind me and wondered whether Abdullah Kurdi’s family slept so easily at any time during their journey. It’s unlikely that, noticing that one of his children was slightly chilly, he was able to turn the heat up a notch in the car. I hope that my children have grown up with love and fun in their hearts, and fear is a thing reserved for their imaginations. Abdullah Kurdi probably hoped the same for his children, but protecting the innocence of your children is difficult when gunfire and suicide bombings are a constant threat. A bloody civil war makes my troubles look insignificant.
I passed a sign for the services a short way ahead. I was feeling a little tired but okay. A coffee would have been nice but I was within an hour and a half of my destination. Driving straight through would be a better option on the final leg of the journey. Was this dangerous? Not especially. I was well aware of the dangers of driving tired having researched it for another blog post, and was aware of a number of junctions ahead I could turn off the motorway if I needed to stop and rest. Abdullah may have felt some sense of relief, maybe even elation, as his family crammed into two small boats on the shores of Bodrum, Turkey. They had somehow made it this far, and were now just a short distance from Europe and the hope of a better life. Were they afraid? This crossing of just 14 miles across the Mediterranean has claimed the lives of around 2500 other refugees this summer alone, many of them in boats similar to the one Abdullah and his family now found themselves crammed into. In the pitch black the boat cast off and drifted out towards Kos. It would never make it.
That morning my children had been happily playing on the beach, jumping waves, splashing, laughing. The waves knock Harry over as he jumps. He panics for a moment as another wave splashes over him, but I grab his hand and pull him up. He smiles at me cold but excited, adrenalin rushing through his body. Eventually the cold of the water gets too much for him so he decides to return to the sand and the waiting warmth of the towels. My eldest, Jay, decides to stay in the water a little longer so I stand with him, smiling and laughing as he enjoys his last day with the sea until our next trip away. Eventually he would also decide that the cold would be too much to take and start heading back to the rest of the family, holding my hand. His skin is pale and he is shivering so I take my hoody off and put it over him, the arms too long almost dragging on the sand.
Aylan Kurdi lies face down on the same beach he left, his brother and mother a short distance away. There would be no towel able to warm him, no hoody big enough to bring the colour back to his pale skin. A family unable to welcome him back into their arms, only a police man, ashen faced and solemn as he looks upon the body of this small, innocent child. Does he have children of his own? Does he see the face of his own son in that of the boy he now cradles delicately in his arms? And what of Abdullah? Does he know of the fate of his family? Is he even alive?
In some ways our lives seem so similar; two men, both fathers, each with a young family we are trying to protect and care for. Our goals are the same but the situations we find ourselves in couldn’t be more different. Our jobs, our religious beliefs, our education, our friends, our enemies, our loves, our fears, our wives, our children, all determined by a single difference in our lives: where we were born.
And so we come to the truth of this whole matter and the reason why one of the fathers is currently writing about why the other is mourning the loss of his whole family. On the very day we are born, our lives are mapped out for us to a certain extent. We allow the boundaries of our countries, lines on a map, define us. We allow them to dictate who we are and we allow others dictate what we can and cannot do based on which lines we fall within. We decide which people can move to a different boundary and which ones must be regarded as dangerous because they were born within a certain boundary. We let lines dictate how far our humanity reaches and where it must stop. We create separation and segregation between peoples, we imagine insurmountable differences between us and use them as excuses to ignore and even turn a blind eye to travesties that are inflicted upon them. That is until they come banging on our doors begging for help, shelter, food, or just somewhere safe to live; then they become “spongers”, “scroungers”, “immigrants”. Blockades in Calais, refugees camping in a Hungarian train station, Greece using stun grenades to quell an uprising of refugees at one of their ports, barbed wire fences to keep the hordes out, and an EU desperately trying to decide what to do.
2500 people have died this summer alone on the crossing between Bodrum and Kos and the first time the voices have risen up for these people is when the body of a child is plastered all over our newspapers, the morning cereal stuck in our throats. This is not just a Syrian problem or even an EU problem. This is a problem that affects the entire world. Wherever there are borders, wherever there are people who are displaced by our governments’ wars, we must accept that we owe it to ourselves to open our borders to these people and help the most vulnerable of them. If there was ever a time when we relied on the help of another country for the survival of our family, how would we feel if they left us in the street while they debated over what to do with us
The differences between us are not insurmountable, nor are they really differences. Take away the borders and we are one and the same.