If You Care So Much About Child Safety, What Are You Doing For Refugees?

By Saigon Flowr

Picture by Alba Soler

Since a 3-year-old climbed into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo on Saturday, it seems everyone on the internet has become an expert in, and advocate for, child safety. As a former refugee, it’s difficult for me to watch — because I know how little these same people seem to care for the safety of children like me.

Though I am now a U.S. citizen, I have been in exile since I was born. I am a survivor of a genocide that’s been going on as long as I’ve been alive — more than 30 years. And in many ways, I am someone who still feels like a refugee even in the country that granted me citizenship, because my people will forever be in exile regardless of the strides we make in foreign lands.

Reading all the outrage toward this child’s mother, outrage that cites “child safety” as its justification, I can’t help but think about other innocent children whose safety and protection are ignored. I think especially of another boy about the same age: Alan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian refugee, who drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to escape genocide.

Photos of Kurdi’s body increased awareness of the refugee crisis, for a while. Time declared the image to be the most heartbreaking picture of 2015. Yet western media and political pundits alike still oppose accepting refugees, and children continue to die. Just last week, a major ship of 700 migrants escaping various forms of persecution perished at sea. In fact, more than 1,100 people died last week in the Mediterranean. Many of them had, or were, children.

Would the people decrying the mother of the little boy in Cincinnati, people who cite “concern” for “child safety,” be equally concerned about the safety of all these children drowning at sea on a weekly basis? When they judge her for “putting her child at risk” through her alleged carelessness, are they thinking about their own accountability for what’s happening to these migrant children they’re complicit in rejecting?

Just a few days ago, a picture of a stunned weeping Scottish boatman holding a dead Libyan baby from a capsized boat — a boat that had been carrying 15 people, including another child — showed up in my newsfeed. No one seemed outraged that children had been put in such a dangerous situation, the way they were with the boy in Cincinnati; no one even offered words of compassion or sadness, like they had for Alan Kurdi a few months before. Or, indeed, like they had for Harambe himself. It was barely mentioned. Perhaps we’re desensitized. Or perhaps the safety of migrant children is a risk worth taking, if it keeps us from having to share.

I have seen people, even my friends, condemn the Cincinnati mother on the basis of child welfare — but I also remember having witnessed their silence when it comes to migrant children seeking safety. I have seen them debate or outright oppose allowing refugees into their borders, peddling unsubstantiated fears of scarcity in employment, money, and benefits. I find myself asking: Where was their concern for child welfare and safety then? Which children’s lives are they willing to risk, and which children’s safety matters?

I can’t help but think of all the ways in which western society is more than willing to compromise child safety — some children, in some circumstances, of some races, and religions, and backgrounds. If we’re going to demand accountability from this child’s parents, we’ve also got to ask who’s going to be held accountable for all the children dying at sea, a nightmare scenario that’s been replaying over and over for years.

Rather than discussing how you would have protected this child’s safety better if you’d been his parent, ask yourselves: What are you doing to save the children who are in peril right now?

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