First Person

This photo of a Syrian boy shook us to the core

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Warning: Graphic content may be disturbing to some viewers.

Yet again, an image of a little Syrian boy is shaking us to our core.

A year after the devastating pictures of little Alan Kurdi’s body washed ashore on a Turkish beach, images of another little boy are making the rounds on social media and forcing us to stop and pay attention.

This time, the little boy is alive, rescued from the rubble of a bombed out building. He is silently seated on the bright orange seat of an ambulance, caked in dust with blood smeared on his face. Stunned, shocked and dazed, he wipes his face. Some blood gets on his hand and like every little kid, his instinct is to wipe it on the seat.

As a mother of a 4-year-old boy, I found the images so awful, I was using my hand to physically block them on my phone and my computer screen as I desperately scrolled down. But then I forced myself to watch the video, and I couldn’t stop crying. This is, after all, happening on our watch.  We mustn’t turn away, we must bear witness. And we must try to help.

I wanted so desperately to scoop him up and hold him, clean his face and tell him it will be okay. But will it? Thankfully his parents and siblings all survived, but sadly, there is no guarantee of safety once their injuries have healed.

Identified by the media as 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh, he is just one of the many children in the middle of a horrendous conflict that is now as old as he is who are facing the same horrific reality every day, but just haven’t been caught on film.

Since the end of July, the fighting has intensified in Omran’s city of Aleppo, with reports of attacks on schools and hospitals from the air and indiscriminate shelling and bombardment of civilian areas.

Hundreds of people, including many children, have reportedly been killed. The city, which is divided in two parts (the West side of the city is under control of the government and the East side is under control of the opposition) has seen its main supply routes blocked by warring parties and thousands of civilians are cut off from food, water, and health care.

Since the encirclement of the eastern part of Aleppo by pro-government forces and its allies at the end of July, and the counter-attack by armed opposition groups, little to no aid has reached hundreds of thousands of people in need. It’s a situation so harrowing, most of us cannot imagine.

We at Oxfam have called urgently for a fully-fledged ceasefire, not just a short break in the fighting, to allow humanitarian aid into all areas of Aleppo and ensure the protection of civilians.

That’s what is needed not just in Aleppo but also across Syria. Somehow, the conflict needs to be de-escalated by all parties and there must be an end to indiscriminate attacks or deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure.

It can’t be said enough: The situation in Syria is just so dire. The children of Syria and their families have been left with no good choices. Whether they stay or go, they face uncertainty, violence, and death.

The US is well on its way to meeting its relatively modest goal of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year, but it can and should do more. The nearly 10,000 Syrians the US resettled thus far represent a tiny fraction of the nearly five million Syrian refugees in the Middle East who fled their homes and their country because of a conflict that has now raged for nearly five and a half years.

We must keep striving for peace so that Syrian families don’t have to make these choices. We just can’t turn away from Alan and Omran – we must bear witness and we must try to help.

Please join me in taking action now. Tell President Obama and Secretary Kerry: protect Syrian civilians from violence and help bring an end to this crisis once and for all.

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