Last week, a precious Syrian child covered in blood and dust, floated through our feeds, and brought the world to its knees.
His name is Omran and he is three years old. He represents the millions of children covered in blood and dust, many of whom have perished in the unrelenting Syrian war.
I saw this picture shared among my friends on Facebook, many shocked and terribly saddened to see this precious child looking so hurt and scared.
A different fate - Australia
But let us consider this: had Omran arrived in Australia, he would have been locked up in a detention centre. He would be behind bars. He would be subject to abuse and more trauma. Yes, behind bars, abused, and rejected. Why? For simply surviving and attempting to make his way to a safer place, a “safe home”.
Is it fair to look at this image of a bloodied and bruised little boy, with even the smallest hint of compassion, while staying silent to the brutality of his ensuing detention?
People arriving on our shores, whether by boat or plane, are risking their lives once more because that risk is far safer than staying where they have come from. And yet, many in the world stay silent, knowing of the brutal detention policies and abuse that awaits these beautiful, brave and courageous survivors.
There have been 2,000 reported incidents of sexual abuse, self-harm, neglect and violence in Australia’s Nauru detention camp. 2,000 voices that have been silenced. Silenced by the Australian Government, and now, silenced by us. Children make up 50% of these horrific reports. (theguardian.com)
We are accomplices
Our blindness and silence makes us complicit in this abuse. Complicit in the abuse of already bloodied and bruised children just like little Omran from Aleppo. Dare I say that as followers of Christ, our sin of silence and indifference is even greater.
I say this because, as Christians, it is not difficult to understand what a Jesus-inspired response should be to the refugee crisis - including our hospitality of those whose lives have been so narrowly spared. What does it mean to follow Jesus if it is not to defend the cause of the displaced, the abused, the traumatised and the vulnerable? Or shall I say, what does it mean to follow Jesus if it is not to defend the refugee, the Omran’s, and welcome them into our homes.
In Matthew 25 Jesus explains to his disciples that it is in the least of these, that Christ is truly found, the least of these. This is a powerful image for us to reflect on.
A different view - New Zealand?
I like to think that in New Zealand, we are better than our neighbours across the ditch in Australia. But we are not, for we too stay silent. We move out of fear, not out of love. Our Government is slow to condemn the brutality of our closest neighbour, and our people are slow to demand such condemnation.
Even in our own backyard, we remain silent. Recently, Kiwis had the opportunity to ask our Government to allow more children like Omran to make our beautiful country their home. We could have doubled our current refugee quota, a measly 700 individuals per year. It is my core belief that our job as citizens is to raise our voice so that the decision-makers can hear us, and respond. It saddens me that my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ did not raise their voice loud enough. They did not speak up for my precious, beautiful Omran.
A call to care
My fellow friends who bear the name of Christ, please do so with all that it carries. We cannot stay silent any longer. We must not. It is not too late to raise our voices for the children of Syria. Children who have escaped the ravages of war, but found themselves captive once again in Australia’s traumatic detention camps. Let us not so easily forget, that when we choose to follow Christ, we are both whispering and shouting: love makes a way.
An excerpt from Warsan Shire’s poem, Home can assist us in reflecting on the reality that lies beyond the word “refugee” once more:
How do the words, the dirty looks, roll off your backs?
Maybe because the blow is softer, than a limb torn off
Or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between your legs
Or the insults are easier to swallow
than your child's body in pieces.
I want to go home.
But home is the mouth of a shark,
home is the barrel of the gun.
Whether it is raising awareness on social media, praying for justice, attending rallies, visiting detention centres, signing petitions, opening our homes to refugees or giving financially, there is something that we can do to ensure the voice of love and mercy is heard above the deafening silence.
Bex Silver lives in Mangere, New Zealand with her husband Sam. Bex has a Masters in International Development and is now undergoing further training to become a Social Worker. She is passionate about building relationships with former refugees in her community, and advocating for social justice.
See all previous articles by Bex Rillstone
Credit: Drawing of Omran by Syrian artist Akram Abu Fawz. Posted on twitter.