The current conflict around the world has highlighted political tensions, cultural tensions, and has ultimately violated what it means to have basic human rights. In the midst of all the debates and politics consuming the media, we all have failed to remember the most sensitive and vulnerable aspects of what is most threatened in times like these: life. Life in all senses – life being violently taken away by strangers, life being mercilessly interrupted, life being ignored for the sake of the majority. The life of a culture, the heartbeat of an entire people, the most innocent and preserved minds of our youth is threatened.
Katrin Bennhold, a writer for The New York Times, focuses our gaze on the uncomfortable reality of how the world’s conflicts are brutally tearing apart the lives of thousands of youths. It’s swept under the rug because no one wants to hear or say that thousands of children are being turned away from food, shelter, and clothing because they are refugees of a war-torn country. The world, therefore, focuses on the politics, the conversations, and the “big picture.” Bennhold tells the story of Reza Muhammad, a child forced into being a refugee at the age of seven. After leaving Afghanistan with his family, he was separated and arrived alone in Germany with the help of a stranger. Bennhold states after recounting his story, “Reza’s story is unusual because of his age. But it illuminates a quiet corner of Europe’s migrant crisis: In the human tide washing up on the Continent, tens of thousands are children and teenagers who arrive on their own.”
In an attempt to neutralize the world’s conflict and balance leaders’ interests, children have slipped through the cracks. The fact that children as young as five years old are forced to walk thousands of miles or float in the middle of the ocean for days just to reach a safe haven brings to light a frightening truth: if we as a human race are unable to recognize each other’s humanity in its most innocent and untainted form, then we have bigger problems than any religious, territorial, or cultural problems.
Bennhold also provides a worrisome statistic to bolster the cold reality of Reza’s story: “Only a handful of unaccompanied minors arrived in Passau in 2012. A year later, their number had risen to 70, and by 2014, there were 470. This year, officials expect 2,000.” The number of child refugees is growing exponentially and the countries welcoming refugees – Germany being the leading helping hand – are not prepared enough. Life after these children arrive in a foreign country is unstable and, in a sense, unaccounted for. The struggle for proof of citizenship is more like a battle as many of the children who arrive are without their parents or without their father, who is the only one able to claim a child in some places. The fact that these kids simply do not exist prevents them from getting an education, a job, finding lost loved ones, and moving forward with their life.
Somini Sengupta, a writer for The New York Times, dives into the challenges for parents and the implications for their children if parents are not able to find a way around challenges. While Sengupta recognizes “realities defy international law,” she also highlights, “parents fleeing home face numerous barriers to conveying citizenship to their children. Marriage papers might be lost. Or parents may avoid government authorities for fear of persecution. Or they may lack the money for proper documents, which could mean that a child’s birth goes unregistered.” For refugees arriving in foreign countries, the hope to exist is turned complicated and nearly impossible by laws, regulations, and policies.
As more of the conflict in the Middle East is being exposed, world leaders have taken measures to keep their own countries safe and have ultimately taken it upon themselves to be the ones to solve this world’s problems. They have taken on the burden of negotiating, debating, and informing as terrorist attacks and threats interrupted their ways of delegating and leading their people. The articles written by Bennhold and Sengupta challenge us, however, to gain some perspective on who is really carrying the burden, on whose life was actually interrupted, and on whom conflict is truly, quite literally, destroying. Fathers, mothers, and children are shouldering the violence and the hatred first hand as most of us are watching from an arm’s length distance. Fathers, mothers, and children are also being the ones forgotten, lost, and turned away as they carry experiences and fears most of us could never stomach. And for many, they are doing it all alone.
Failing to recognize another person’s humanity is perhaps the first and most harmful act of violence any human can commit. As a human race, our challenge is, for the moment, perhaps not to act, but to stop and realize how all of our humanity is tied to one another.