Five years on from Alan Kurdi’s death, it’s time to treat refugees with humanity

By: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Remember the image? A three-year-old dead child, Alan Kurdi, in a red T-shirt and blue shorts, shoes still on, was washed up on a beach in Turkey. His brother Ghalib and mum Rehanna drowned too. Abdullah, her husband and Alan’s father, survived. They were Syrian Kurds, trying to get to Greece on an unsafe boat carrying “illegals”.

They apparently wanted to seek asylum in Canada. Another refugee, Zainab Abbas, lost two children. That photograph shook up the world. We were collectively stunned and stirred. I wrote an emotional column. It will be five years on 2 September since that tragedy.

I now think the high drama was theatre. Its cathartic effect was soon gone. There were no follow-up political reflections or actions.

Nothing changed. Now, here before us are others on life-endangering kayaks, trying to get to our shores – a heavily pregnant woman, a child, broken men, hungry souls taking terrible risks to survive and thrive, fundamental human drives. Is that so difficult to understand?

Seems to be. Especially now, with the spread of Faragism across the land. It was he who propagandised this story by turning up near the white cliffs of Dover. And now, look! TV channels are scaring us about the “invasion”. And frightened voters are telling the Government to do what is necessary. So what would they accept as acceptable? Launch gunships, as the malevolent Katie Hopkins once suggested? Sending our big navy ships to drown them? What is acceptable? Some migrants may well be criminals and blackguards. And ruthless, avaricious traffickers are abominable. But most of these boat people are innocent victims of those operators, their own governments and ours too.

Meet Hassan Akkad, a tortured Syrian man, who got on a boat and filmed the journey which eventually brought him to the UK. Watch it on the BBC series Exodus: Our Journey into Europe, which won a Bafta. In May, this heroic chap, now a cleaner in a Covid-19 hospital ward, got the Government to include immigrant NHS workers in the national bereavement compensation scheme.

To stop people fleeing their lands, our government could establish an ethical foreign policy whereby despotic and globally menacing nations are denied trade and “good relations”. And environmental disasters get rapid and sustainable assistance. (Fat chance of that ever happening.)

Lastly, the Government has failed to look after the UK and all its peoples. When the PM rants: “[Crossing the Channel is] very bad and stupid and … is a criminal waste of money and an utterly immoral pursuit.” He should apply those words to his own cabal. Shifting anger onto pitiful migrants will only work temporarily. We who feel sympathy for the floating dispossessed should go to where the boat people come and show our support. For we are the “British People” too. And these black and brown lives matter.