FLEEING FROM HOME
Imagine you are the mother of a two year old child. Your husband, along with most of the other men in your village, was taken away one night and has not been seen since. You also have been a mother to your two little sisters since the death of your parents. The chance to live in a safer, more stable environment comes your way and you grab hold of it with both hands, fleeing from your home.
Maybe you are a young man of seventeen, the head of your family, ever since your father was murdered. Your widowed mother is unable to feed her five children. You have watched your brothers and sisters starve as they have waited for you to do something – anything. The only way for you to help them is to leave, to find work and then to send the money you earn home. Wherever you might end up will seem like a paradise compared to what you have left behind.
These scenarios describe the circumstances that many African migrants have found themselves in through no fault of their own. Overcrowded vessels cross the Mediterranean sea regularly; they carry desperate people seeking better lives. For some of these passengers, to be sent home could mean certain death. Most want to live in relative peace, to find jobs and to help out their families. If they manage to survive the journey without drowning, they must face the daunting task of finding work in a strange country. For those who are unable to speak the language this task becomes even more difficult. Sometimes they turn to crime.
The latest tragic headline was about a boat capsizing off the Italian holiday island of Lampedusa. Close to 500 passengers had been on board and hundreds of people are feared dead. This has become a regular occurrence on that stretch of water; but the losses are usually fewer, making the incidents less newsworthy. Four days previous to the Lampedusa disaster, thirteen men drowned off the southern coast of Italy. They had abandoned their sinking boat and had tried to swim ashore; few people around the world heard about that tragedy. One million children in Syria, mostly under the age of 11, are fleeing from their homes. They have crossed the borders of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt; they have even traveled to North Africa or as far away as Europe. Often, they are frightened and in need of medical supplies or treatment. Approximately half of all the refugees from the conflict in Syria are children.
Eight year old Aya’s story is perhaps typical. Her family was forced to flee to Lebanon in 2011. They now live in the valley of Bekaa, in a refugee camp that is home to over a thousand displaced people. Aya seldom has been able to attend school over many of the past few years. When she grows up she would love to be a pediatrician . Unfortunately, Aya’s father cannot afford the $20 monthly transport fee to the nearest school. If we asked any of these children what they wanted most in the world, they would say “to go home.” The Syrian civil war is in its third year and going home is not possible right now.
Imagine you are among those fleeing from tragic circumstances, living in a makeshift home; a piece of tarpaulin is the only shield you have from the searing heat of the sun or the pounding of heavy rain. Your family must survive on hand-outs from various charities and your children have no school to attend. Be thankful that you are only imagining this.
By Jean Reinhardt 2013