Mohammed, who’ll grab at life, and hold it.
Yesterday I watched a video — some footage from a camera-phone.
You might have seen it too.
If you follow the news, you may have watched the footage of Turkish fisherman finding a family of three Syrian refugees floating in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Mum, dad, and the body of an eighteen month old boy.
A very small boy, like all the very small boys in all our families. Stocky gleeful life, stilled to wax and little silence.
Like me, you may have put your hand to your mouth when you realised — at the same moment as the fisherman — that the little boy was alive. Only just, but alive.
On camera, they held him by his ankles, and let the water drain out of his lungs.
And then they wrapped him in old jumpers and he lived.
That little boy is called Mohammed. Mohammed has been in hospital. He’s cared for, and for now, he’s ok. He’ll grab at life — and he’ll hold it.
Two people from the boat on which Mohammed and his family travelled are dead. Sixteen are missing. If their names and ages were released — if there were other children — we don’t know it.
2,600 refugees have died in the Mediterranean this year — so far as we know. But then, who knows?
56,000 refugees crossed to Greece this week — to a single country which for Syrian refugees is neither the safe road, nor the cheap one, but still the most rational route to safety.
Half a million refugees have left Syria so far this year. Most of those who leave go to local camps, in Beka’a or elsewhere, and wait for their food rations to be withdrawn.
4.1m Syrian refugees are already outside Syria.
6.5m Syrians are ‘internally displaced;’ too old, too poor or too trapped to leave, or turned back at gun-point by ISIS — but unable to go home.
The 4.1m plus the 6.5 million plus the dead add up to half of Syria’s population, more or less sheltered in winter, but caught outside their homes.
In all my life I have never been so cold as during the Aleppo snow. Without shelter, I don’t think it is survivable.
As the winter comes on, the numbers of boats are rising. The seas are getting colder and more dangerous, but for families like Mohammed’s, they remain the only choice. The sea is a killer, and it is a place of safety.
For the refugee crisis, this is the storm, and it is the calm before the storm.
So what can we do to create a real place of safety? What can we do for Mohammed?
Eventually we will have to act, to work, to make Syria a safe place to stay. Ten million people cannot be transported elsewhere, and neither should they be forced to leave their homes.
That’s in the spring. The danger now is the winter.
The UK should be taking not a shameful 216 people and not the 20,000 that David Cameron has promised over five years, but Syrian families now.
And a number of families calculated not according to an arbitrary target, but by what we can cope with at a local level.
It is a handful of years since we could get on a train in London and walk out of the station in Damascus. We are talking about our neighbours. When the boiler breaks, when the door has been forced open and the police are on their way — we let our neighbours in.
No matter where we came from originally, we’re British. We solve problems. We put a carpenter’s pencil behind our ear and we work solid, kind, thoughtful miracles.
Let’s work a miracle now, and give kids like Mohammed a chance over the winter.
It’s easily done.
A month ago, I volunteered to give refugees like Mohammed and his family a home. I signed up, offered to talk to my local councillors; to explain what I could offer, and the sureties I could give.
My little town rallied around, and we — the only people who can know — calculated our capacity. We looked at our school: our surgery, our reserves. We talked to our councillors — good people who are desperate to help — and are told they can’t.
It’s wrong to tell people like us that we can’t help. It’s worse to give us the message that we’re wrong to want to. The refugee crisis hurts all of us — when it could help us to be proud again.
Tear up your target Mr Cameron. Community by community, let us tell you what we can do. Ask us — and then give us the support we need.
Let’s get Mohammed inside this winter.