There were at least 20 people there to meet the family, many of whom already knew each other and some who were meeting for the first time. We stood and chatted amongst ourselves, patiently waiting for the doors to open. As flight passengers began to file out, we clustered together in anticipation.
The family of the refugees rushed to the gate when the refugees came in. It was difficult to see how many had just arrived and how many were already here. The man collapsed to his knees as though he had been holding out hope for the entire flight, and the weight of having made it through those doors to safety was enough to make his knees buckle. He embraced the children that ran up to meet him. Tears. Hugs. Kisses. More people clustered around him, a cocoon of protection and community and family. I had never seen this kind of raw human emotion.
I can only imagine what hellish realities they had fled from. What we see in the headlines must pale to living the day-to-day life in a country devouring itself in civil war. Where each opposing force claims to be “for the people”, while simultaneously butchering them. Where you wake, live and sleep by gunfire. Where death is the order of the day.
We have it so easy here, complaining about our weather.
There were at least four refugees: the father, the mother and two children. Their English was not good, but they did know this: “Thank you”. As people closed in to meet them and give them gifts, they repeated that often.
It was Ramadan. And in true Islamic fashion, their family invited everyone to their house to break the fast. It was a warm summer night and the table of food was nearly as long as their back yard. Friends and family and strangers all crowded together to share in breaking the fast. The Syrian man came up to me with a wide smile. “Eat, eat,” he said. I happily obliged. I met him one more time as I left. He shook my hand.
“JazakAllah khair,” he said—may God reward you. “Thank you.”
Someone else’s problem
Beyond the pale of bureaucracy and media coverage, the human side of the Syrian conflict was exposed to me. Here in Canada, this family could pour out their tears without fear of pouring out their blood.
The Syrian refugee crisis has forced everyone, from governments to individuals, to look inward and find the humanity that is often buried beneath paperwork and regulations. It’s forced people to realize that these people—these stories—are not just “someone else’s problem”. Quite contrary: we are someone else’s problem. We are someone else’s problem every time we think that it’s not our problem. We are someone else’s problem every time we turn people in need away. We are someone else’s problem when we deny asylum that could have been given. We are someone else’s problem when we look at the Alan Kurdi of the world with the same apathy as a newspaper headline.
The story of this refugee family is just one small droplet in the tidal wave of Syrian refugees that are currently fleeing their country. But what is an ocean but a collection of droplets?
What is humanity but a collection of humans?