09/08/2015 08:26 EDT | Updated 09/08/2016 05:12 EDT

Canada Must Take Strong Action to Help Save Syrian Children

ARMEND NIMANI via Getty Images
A man carries two children as he walks with other migrants near the southern Serbian village of Miratovac, travelling on foot from Macedonia to Presevo in Serbia, on August 25, 2015. At least 2,000 more migrants flooded overnight into Serbia in a desperate journey to try and go on to Hungary, the door into the European Union, a UN official said on August 24. More than 9,000 people, mostly Syrian refugees, have arrived to Serbia those last three days. AFP PHOTO / ARMEND NIMANI (Photo credit should read ARMEND NIMANI/AFP/Getty Images)


Like this father in Lebanon, millions of Syrian parents have taken the desperate action of leaving everything behind and fleeing with their children to places of refuge. World Vision photo.

When my daughter Annie was three, she was terrified of the ocean. As I carried her into the waves, her little hands would grip my arms like iron. Annie gradually became more comfortable in the water as she grew, but only because she could trust me to stay nearby, quickly lifting her to safety when needed.

Alan Kurdi couldn't be lifted to safety in time. The little Syrian boy who washed up on a Turkish beach, after drowning during his family's desperate attempt to reach Europe, may have tried to cling to his father when the boat flipped and the waves came crashing on top of him. But no matter how much this father loved his little boy, no matter how much he'd paid the people smuggler to deliver his family to a safer country, he couldn't save Alan's life.

I am unwilling to shake off the horror of seeing Alan Kurdi lying face down on the beach. Like millions of Canadians, I'm still reeling from the shock of that image. If it were just one child, just one death, the story would still be heartbreaking. But the outraged conversations across Canada, from dinner table debates to campaign trail confrontations, have quickly expanded to include Canada's wider response to this terrible conflict. People are reckoning with themselves and their future leaders, asking questions about our country's responsibility in lifting families to safety, and bringing relief for their suffering.

These questions about addressing the humanitarian and refugee crisis are important. Considered in isolation, however, they ignore a critical part of what drove Alan Kurdi's father to attempt the ocean crossing in the first place. He wasn't looking for 'a better life' than what they had in Syria. No one risks their children's lives for a mere improvement. Like millions of parents we read about in the news, who carry their children through mountain ranges, across hostile borders, and into boats doomed to sink, this father was looking to remove his family from an absolute living hell.

Alan's father acted in desperation, when all other options and resources were exhausted. The Syrian tragedy has been unfolding before our eyes for more than four years now. We can and must do more, and we must act now.

Enough is enough. It is time for Canada to champion a peaceful solution to end this terrible conflict for the sake of Syria's children by addressing the political root causes of the crisis. We urge Canada -- through all of its political and government representatives -- to make rekindling the peace process in Syria a priority.

We have the moral imperative to go beyond applying Band-Aids to children whose futures have been shattered. We must give them nothing less than peace. It's one thing to acknowledge that the crisis is the result of complex political problems, but we can't just leave it there. We must roll up our sleeves to find the complex solutions that will restore peace to children's lives.

First, Canada needs to link arms with the international community to demand both an immediate ceasefire and unhindered humanitarian access and support to the millions of people in need.

Second, Canada needs to work toward an international arms embargo to stem the flow of arms to the region which enables the continuation of hostilities.

Third, Canada needs to offer the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura, the clout of Canada's diplomatic expertise and experience to contribute to his peace efforts.

And lastly, I urge Canada to advocate for the inclusion of children and youth, Canadian and Syrian alike, in any and all peace efforts. World Vision has seen firsthand the energy and perspective that young people bring to the table, through meetings like the Amman Forum on Youth Peace and Security.

In the midst of this important work, we must never forget Alan, the little boy with dark hair and blue shoes who won't celebrate his fourth birthday. He can't communicate with us about his dreams for the future, for they are no more.

It's not enough to have our hearts broken by the image of Alan Kurdi lying on the beach. We must allow ourselves to be irreversibly changed. For his sake, and the sake of millions of Syrian children still desperate for peace, we must not look away. We have to act.

Editor's Note: The boys' aunt told The Canadian Press the boys' names are Alan, and not Aylan, and Galib, not Galip, as originally released by the Turkish government.


Syrians Flee Into Turkey, June 2015