Irish Naval Service personnel from the LÉ Eithne rescuing migrants as part of Operation Triton, June 2015.
October 2013. ‘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.’
The above excerpt is from a post I did for Blog Action Day October 16, 2013. There was a crisis back then and it’s still the same today, with over 390,000 displaced people registered in the camp at Bekaa in August of this year. As a flood of desperate people now wash over Europe, their plight is still the same – they need a safe place to live. If I were in their position I think I would be doing likewise. I may even risk bringing my family onto an overcrowded boat. None of us know what desperate measures we might take, put in similar circumstances, and I’m reminded of the one and a half million Irish who left their homeland for foreign shores over a century ago, driven out by hunger and poverty. Many of them died in the overcrowded hold of a ship, with not enough water or food for their journey, succumbing to disease and starvation and the term ‘coffin ship’ was coined.
Little Aya, mentioned in the excerpt, would be ten years old by now. I wonder if she has managed to get to school yet. I hope she wasn’t among the UNHCR’s estimated 2,500 people who have already died this summer attempting to cross the Mediterranean.