A picture, it is said, paints a thousand words.
As a mum, I felt sick to my stomach. A young life cut so tragically short. A shocking reminder of the human cost of the Syrian crisis – of the vulnerability, and the desperation of the innocent civilians caught up in the conflict.
Around 12 million people have fled their homes because of the crisis. Millions are displaced within Syria itself, or have taken refuge in camps in neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. And some, like the family of three year old Aylan Kurdi, are making the dangerous journey to Europe in a bid to escape.
But what precisely are these people fleeing?
Many are running from the evil terrorist organisation Daesh –a group that is murdering, raping, and enslaving men, women, and children, and urging attacks in Australia. Others still are fleeing the brutal Assad regime that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, and has used chemical weapons and barrel bombs against its own citizens. The situation is dire.
Last year, I visited the refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon (some the size of small cities) with UNICEF. The need was immense. Since then I have been calling on the Australian Government to do more to help relieve the desperate humanitarian situation. Sadly, just a few weeks ago, my calls for more humanitarian assistance were mocked by the Government.
No doubt the Government was sensitive about the fact it was providing less assistance, despite the fact the Syrian crisis was getting worse. From 2011 to 2013 Australia gave $100 million in assistance. But from 2014 to 2015, assistance fell to $55 million. And that fall in support came in addition to the Government cutting aid to the Middle East-North Africa by 82%, and aid to Iraq to zero. UN organisations providing essential services (like food, water and shelter) to those fleeing the crisis said they were broke.
I welcome the Government’s announcement to take 12,000 extra refugees in addition to Australia’s existing humanitarian intake, and to put $44 million towards helping in Syria and the surround region. Labor thinks $100 million would be more like it.
There must be an immediate and generous humanitarian response to the crisis in Syria. Australia is now making a good contribution, but we can and should do more.
In the longer term, there needs to be a political solution for Syria that puts the interests of its people first. The international community must play a constructive role in bringing the relevant parties back to the table to talk peace.