A group of people thought to be migrants crossing the Channel in a small boat headed in the direction of Dover, Kent, United Kingdom, August 10, 2020.
© 2020 Gareth Fuller/Press Association via AP Images
It is almost five years since the body of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy, washed up on a beach in Turkey. After fleeing the war in Syria with his family, Alan died when the family’s dinghy capsized as they tried to make the dangerous journey to safety in Greece. The image of his lifeless body lying on the shore prompted global outrage and empathy, with governments promising to do more.
This week, on the morning of August 19, the body of a Sudanese youth washed up on a French beach after the small inflatable dinghy he was in capsized while crossing the English Channel to reach the United Kingdom. He has been named as Abdulfatah Hamdallah. Friends said he was 16, his family have since said 22, and French authorities have said identity documents give his age as 28.
Whatever his age – bearing in mind that migrant children often believe they’re better off presenting themselves as adults – his death should shock our moral conscience in the same way as Alan’s. Over 4,000 people have crossed the channel this year in ‘small boats,’ including many children. In addition to Sudan, they come from countries such as Syria, Iran, and Eritrea, often fleeing threats to their lives, safety, and freedom.
The United Kingdom (UK) government’s response has lacked compassion. The Home Secretary has suggested sending Royal Navy warships to intercept and block those who attempt the crossing and blames people smugglers, rather than reflecting on the role UK policies play in encouraging these dangerous journeys.
The French government has responded with hand-wringing expressions of sorrow that ignore its own role in driving people to risk their lives in unseaworthy vessels. These shortcomings include abusive policing practices, undignified living conditions, and a failure to protect and care for unaccompanied children.
France and the UK should prioritize saving people’s lives, not adding to their misery. The UK should open safe, legal routes for those seeking sanctuary. And France should ensure those who need protection, including unaccompanied children, receive it without delay.
The death of this Sudanese youth should spur change and a recognition of our shared humanity, so that people seeking safety are treated with dignity and compassion, not left to suffer careless deaths.