Tima Kurdi has travelled from Vancouver, Canada to Westminster this week, to encourage London and the rest of the UK to embrace the campaigns #BeARefugeeSponsor and #ExtendTheWelcome. Even though Tima’s visit has the ultimate aim of promoting positive forward movement in policies and practices to assist Syrian refugees, her own personal story is one of tragedy that touched her and her family very closely.
Tima’s story is one that represents not only tragedy but also – hope. Her family have experienced the heartbreak and plight of all those families that had to flee Syria due to the devastation and very imminent threat to life that the war presented.
Tima understands very personally the experiences of Syria’s refugees. As the aunt of Alan Kurdi, the boy on the beach; the tragic image of whom lying dead on a pebbled shore in Turkey still haunts the world, Tima had tried to get her younger brother Abdullah and his family, wife Rehanna and two children, Ghalib and Alan to Canada through the community sponsorship scheme. After months of frustrating paperwork, but without the right documentation, it had failed. The destruction of the war and subsequent poverty faced by her family, who had escaped to Turkey, reached such an intensity that they decided to take a desperate smugglers route to get to Greece to survive. Tima paid the smugglers for them to leave as soon as possible, and will always blame herself for the overcrowded little boat that capsized in rough seas, causing the tragic death of Alan, his brother Ghalib and their mother Rehanna.
Canada welcomes you – so does the UK?
The photograph of the boy on the beach galvanised the world to take better care of refugees. Towards the end of 2015, Tima’s eldest brother Mohammed, his wife and five children were among the 25,000 Syrians who were welcomed to Canada, thanks to Justin Trudeau’s new policy.
The Canadian model of welcoming refugees was lauded on the international stage, and many called for the rest of the world to follow suit. The UK adopted a model of Community Sponsorship, similar to that of Canada. The Home Office awarded £1 million to a new umbrella organisation, Reset to provide support to NGO groups that support community groups that want to sponsor families fleeing the war in Syria.
As of 2017, the scheme had welcomed and resettled 138 refugees. Families have been welcomed. Community groups such as charities, faith groups and churches have welcomed families of refugees in the UK up and down the country from London to Cornwall to Manchester and Wales.
Families such as the Alasamaeis have come to the UK through the Vulnerable Person Resettlement Scheme (VPRS). Arriving in the UK in September 2016 after fleeing their shelled home, and then spending another 3 years in cramped conditions in a camp in Lebanon, Abdel Kader Alasamaei was happy to have his family safe and welcomed into a system that allowed his children to return to school and let him to continue his craft as a tailor.
Abdel Kader will be joining Tima at the National Liberal Club to speak about his experiences, and to remind us of the importance of the Community Sponsorship scheme. But with the UN estimating that there are still over 6 million Syrian refugees worldwide, we in the UK can all still do a lot more.
This event and IOHR’s partnership with organisations such as Citizens UK continue to drive the campaign forward, so that families like Tima’s are not forgotten or dismissed as a number. It is vital to ensure their experiences do not get diluted in an era of sustained humanitarian crises. Events such as this allow us to humanise their plight, keeping it close to our hearts, making sure they stay at the foremost of the public agenda, and consequently preparing us to take action.