Correction appended Sept. 10, 2015.
After seeing the small body of Aylan Kurdi washed ashore in Turkey, I have prayed every day that his death will not be in vain. I have been asking myself: Is this the moment that our politicians will finally see that the children of Syria are the same as any other children? Will they finally acknowledge that people fleeing conflict have the right to be protected?
Syria’s refugees have committed no crime that justifies their suffering. They are doing what anyone would do if their home were no longer safe. I myself know what it is to have to leave your home, when my family was forced to leave our home in Swat Valley because of conflict and terrorism in 2009. We lived for three months as internally displaced people (IDPs). That is quite a short time compared to many refugees — but I know very well how hard it is to live like that, and how desperate is the desire of parents to find a safe place for their children to call home.
I am distressed that most of our leaders are failing to meet this moral challenge, and I hope more of them will follow the example of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has allowed Syrian refugees who arrive in Germany to stay and apply for asylum. I have also been very moved by the thousands of people who have stood in train stations and at checkpoints, welcoming refugees to their new homes with food and clothing.
Europe’s sudden awakening to the people arriving at its borders is nothing compared with those displaced within Syria and the region. According to the U.N., more than 11 million people have been displaced in total, with more than 7 million inside Syria and 4 million outside the country. About half of the Syrian refugees are children, most of them out of school for months or years. I saw the great need this past July, when I traveled to Lebanon and Jordan for my 18th birthday, meeting with brave girls who have lost their parents, their school and their homes.
The world’s response has been pitiful — only 37% of the U.N.’s response plan for this year has been funded and more than 63% of funding needs are unmet. Food rations for refugees are being cut because nations will not contribute their fair share to help. Entire refugee camps have only one or two schools for children. If we say we care, we must not just use words, but take action.
Every religion and culture has a tradition of helping those in danger and distress. I do not think of us as different, but of all humanity as one country, where every person deserves equal rights, no matter whether they are black or white, man or woman, rich or poor. I hope that our humanity will guide decisions and allow all of us to stand with the millions of Syrian refugees who need our voice and our help more than ever today.
Malala Yousafzai is a student, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and co-founder of the Malala Fund, a nonprofit organization that empowers girls globally through education to achieve their potential and be agents of change in their community. The Malala Fund invests in and advocates for girls’ secondary education in Pakistan, Nigeria, Kenya, Sierra Leone and the Syrian border states of Lebanon and Jordan.
Correction: The original version of the article misstated the amount of funding received in the U.N. response plan and the amount of funding needs that are unmet. It was 37% of the U.N.’s response plan for this year that have been funded, and more than 63% of funding needs that are unmet.