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  • Barbara Kuznik

I am lucky to be called an expat, but the fact is I also am a migrant

Updated: Jul 27, 2022

Last Sunday started a bit different as usually. First really cold and wet Brussels morning when you start searching for warmer clothes and rain boots. The summer is over.

Everything was like nothing happened, we still had our daily routine and everything we need: home, job, healthy children, each other - we should be happy.

But it wasn't like any other morning. The picture of that tiny small body on the shore in a red t-shirt and blue shorts, still as he would be sleeping, couldn't get out of my head. The heartbreaking story of the 3-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi made me feel ... guilty.

I caught myself staring at the image, I saw the sorrow on the face of the police officer that found him and same as him I couldn’t help but imagine that it was one of my own children lying there drowned on the beach.

The IOM says that more than 2,600 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean this year, trying to reach Greece or Italy. And we all know there were many children among them. Can you imagine how many of these tiny little clothes and shoes must be lying at the bottom of the Mediterranean sea?

This particular little boy became a symbol for all of them.

Aylan might manage to a better life, he might become your neighbour, your daughter's lower, your son's best friend. He might change your life in a different way. Unfortunately, he didn't make it. But the horror of his death captured in a photo changed everything.

As Peter Bouckeart from the Human Rights Watch (the one who first twitted this photo) wrote in his beautiful blog »Some say the picture is too offensive to share online or print in our newspapers. But what I find offensive is that drowned children are washing up on our shorelines when more could have been done to prevent their deaths.It was not an easy decision to share a brutal image of a drowned child. But I care about these children as much as my own. Maybe if Europe’s leaders did too, they would try to stem this ghastly spectacle.»

When the EU foreign policy chief was asked last week about the picture of “that” three-year-old boy, Federica Mogherini said that politicians cannot afford to act emotionally.

“I am a little bit fed up that politicians are called to react emotionally,” Mogherini said in Luxembourg. She explained their job is to take decisions rationally, be consistent and coherent with their emotions, to act responsibly and to take the consequential decisions that are needed.

I never liked this language and big words about how responsible actions are needed. We need action in real life, not on paper!

The river of hope trying to reach Europe is endless. A record number of 7,000 Syrians reached Macedonia this Monday and a further 30,000 Syrians are in Greece, according to the UNHCR. They keep on coming. They have to hurry, it will soon be too cold.

While EU politics is kind of failing, people decided to act on their own. We are, after all, those who are allowed to act emotionally!

Iceland, far away from the refugee drama, invented the movement #refugeeswelcome! It went viral! The Germans and the Austrians opened their hearts, even the Brits joined the wave. Sweden and other Scandinavian countries are following.

Even the politics in Hungary is terrible, people are trying to offer them help. Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Croatia and my bellowed Slovenia on the other side are still indecisive. Not sure what they are afraid of. It should be a compliment to these countries that anybody would want to stay there. Not that it is so bad, on the contrary.

For all of us that have left home some time ago, these countries are the most beautiful places on the earth. For the heating mechanics I once needed here in Brussels, originally from Croatia, for the neighbour's cleaning lady from Poland, for the Romanian plumber, the car mechanic from Kosovo, ...and the Slovenian mum who is writing this blog.

I don't pretend to be any better than all these refugees just because I was lucky I didn't have to run away from war and seek asylum. I could, though, once find myself in the same position.

So this Sunday we packed some warm clothes, raincoats and shoes for children and a strong backpack into one of those Ikea bags and we went to Gare du Nord. This is one of the places where refugees settled in Brussels. It was an early morning, many people were still sleeping. But there were volunteers coming, not in masses, but more like individuals, families; some brought bags with food and other clothes, and most of them put on the yellow vest and started helping to sort out the clothes and shoes, prepare the food and share the warm tea on the spot.

Our children searched for the refugee children in the camp, and they gave them two teddy bears they took from home. Did they understand? I hope so.

It was a rainy and cold night, and they all were tired. They just wanted to have some rest. I asked a woman volunteer speaking Arab and French what do they need? She said every help is welcome. As people were trying to help spontaneously, too many old shoes were gathered. So they need volunteers to help share. They now urgently nee a warm welcome, a roof over their head, some warm clothes and most of all everyday things we would all need on such a long trip: a toothbrush, a towel, fresh underwear, soap, a clean t-shirt... People we met in the park will probably stay in Belgium. They might be selling bread or fruit around the corner just in a few years, might be driving a taxi or playing in the Belgian Philharmonic. Who knows.

They might become a new European Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Anka, Steve Jobs or Paula Abdul?

What do these people have to do with the whole story? A lot.

They are well known worldwide because their fathers or grandparents made it many years ago. The long road to the promised land. They all have a migrant background and are known as Americans of the modern Syrian heritage.

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