It’s Father’s Day in the UK. Like many across the country, today I will be showing my appreciation my dad, for everything he has done. I know that my dad would go to the end of the earth for me, like any father.
Luckily for us both, he has never had to make a life or death decision to give me the chances in life I’ve had. Not like Ahmad*.
Ahmad* is a Syrian father who I met in Britain last year, and like too many Syrians, being a father has forced him to make terrifying decisions to do the best by his children, to keep them safe and allow them a future.
A shameful chapter in modern history
The crisis in Syria represents a shameful chapter in modern history. It’s been over four years since the fighting began. four years of bloodshed. four years of political impotence.
And now nearly four million people have fled the country, half of them children. Thousands more are risking their lives to reach the shores of Europe, in pursuit of safety and a better future.
“I came in the hard way.” Ahmad tells me as we sit in his new home far from the horrors of his homeland. After spending five months various detention centres he was granted asylum last year and his family were able to join him in the safety of the UK.
Ahmad has lost 25 family members to the war in Syria.
They were not fighters, just normal people, caught up in the bullets and the blasts. After enduring two years of life in a warzone, it was the destruction of his children’s school, when several of his children’s friends were maimed and killed, that finally drove Ahmad to make the difficult decision to leave his home.
“When you see that… You can’t imagine what that is like. That children would suffer like this. That children become part of the ground. Nobody can imagine that. Nobody.”
He’s right. I can’t imagine. I certainly don’t want to as he sits there before me, a man broken by all he has seen. But as more Syrians are swept up on the shores of Europe, one thing is clear. We need to imagine. We need to act.
A choice between two fires
“It’s like two fires.” Ahmad tells me, fighting back his tears “You have to select between the two fires. If you live in Syria maybe you will die any time. Or, if you choose to leave Syria, maybe you will die later from the cold. You have to choose which is a better death”.
In Italy alone, over 50,000 people have arrived this year. Whether having fled from war, persecution or excruciating poverty, they have endured a terrifying journey to get there. Last year 3,000 people drowned on this route and this year there are more people crossing than ever.
Ahmad made that journey. After escaping the gunfire, the sieges and the killings, he found himself with no money and no home. His children with no school and no future. He made the deadly journey because he wanted to be a good father. He felt he had no choice.
“The man who does this, he does not have any other choice. It’s not for him, it’s for his family, it’s for his children.”
A crisis in the Mediterranean
EU governments met this week to try and reach an agreement on how to address the issue of the tens of thousands of people travelling to Europe across the Mediterranean, also known as the ‘EU Migrant Crisis’.
How can countries like Italy and Greece be supported? What can be done with people when they arrive? How can we prevent people crossing in the first place?
There is no easy answer to these questions, and the debate will continue. However whilst ministers grapple with politics and fair share quotas, Syrian fathers, mothers and children will continue to cross the sea.
Because, as Ahmad tells me, “Syrians will keep on leaving if they need to leave… People want to live. Just to live.”
Syrians make up the largest number of migrant families arriving by boat on Europe’s shores. The UK currently has a scheme to resettle the most vulnerable Syrian refugees safely, but so far this scheme has taken in fewer than 200 people.
200 people in the face of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. 200 people when there are millions wondering which fire to choose.
Ahmad and his wife live now for their children. I know that all the decisions they have made to this date has been to try to provide their children with a better future, free from fear.
“Children will grow up and they can become a new person, another life. But our story, as adults, we cannot become another, we are now finished”
So as we celebrate father’s day in the, I want to remember fathers like Ahmad.
I am proud to be British, for the humanity our country has shown over decades. We’ve offered refuge to many thousands fleeing war or oppression.
I hope that we continue this tradition and resettle thousands of Syrians, not hundreds, so that fathers like Ahmad do not have to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean in order to provide their families a future.
We’re asking our supporters to thank the crew of HMS Bulwark for their life-saving work in the Mediterranean where they have saved hundreds of peoples’ lives: leave your message of support
*name changed to protect identity