Aylan Kurdi and the moral illiteracy of our government

By Jill Segger
September 3, 2015

Rehan Kurdi and her two small children, Aylan and Galip are dead. As the world now knows, they drowned while attempting to flee from the horrors of Kobane for a life of peace and safety in Europe. The picture of three-year-old Aylan's tiny body, face down on a Turkish, beach has shocked millions.

The little boy, in his red shirt and blue shorts, has become a kind of Everychild – distilling all the unnamed dead of the refugee crisis now convulsing Europe into one piteous and heart-wrenching image. Maybe this will prove to be a pivotal moment in moving public opinion towards compassion and generosity of spirit – qualities already expressed by millions in this country – but denied by the twisted and equivocating words of our Prime Minister.

David Cameron has insisted that Britain should not take any more refugees from the tormented countries of the Middle East, saying: “We have taken a number of genuine asylum seekers from Syrian refugee camps and we keep that under review, but we think the most important thing is to try to bring peace and stability to that part of the world. I don’t think there is an answer that can be achieved simply by taking more and more refugees.”

Leaving aside for a moment the fact that the UK has so far accepted only 216 refugees from the 4 million who have fled the Syrian conflict; refraining from asking the Prime Minister to lay out his proposals for such peace-making and stability-bringing, the sheer logical and moral stupidity of positing this appalling crisis as an 'either/or' choice is simply horrifying. The implication that until the nightmare – for which western powers bear considerable responsibility – can be resolved, no actions of mercy or amelioration should be undertaken, suggests the workings of a morally illiterate mind.

Leadership requires so much more than this that it is hard to know where to begin. Maybe reflection on the fact that two thirds of UK arms exports currently go to Middle Eastern countries would be a starting point.

Yvette Cooper's suggestion: “If every area in the UK took just 10 families, we could offer sanctuary to 10,000 refugees. Let’s not look back with shame at our inaction” must be taken up. Citizens UK, the Refugee Council and several council leaders – including those from Conservative-run councils – intend to hold a pledging conference on the subject of taking refugees.

Neil Jameson, the executive director of Citizens UK, said: “We are delighted Cooper has made her intervention, but this should not be a party-political issue. We think civil society can show there is a generosity in the British people, and with the help of churches, mosques and synagogues we can identify empty property in which refugees can be housed.”

Here is a tide at the full and waiting to be taken. It seems that the British people must lead their Prime Minister. David Cameron has a choice to make: humanity, or fear of Ukip-style rhetoric, both on the green benches and in the wider community.

* More from Ekklesia on migration and refugee issues: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/migration

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen

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