When 3-year old Aylan Kurdi drowned and washed up on a beach, the Syrian refugee crisis viscerally and controversially captured the public’s attention. It wasn’t just Aylan who drowned. An estimated 1,700 refugees have drowned this year alone. Our community has been silent.
It’s not just drowning, it’s actions that contribute to drowning. A new report shows that a “raft economy” is flourishing in Turkey, selling inferior or blatantly unsafe lifejackets and inflatable rafts to would-be refugees, who are often paying human traffickers for the privilege of boarding these dangerous vessels. Our community has been silent.
Refugees fleeing war torn countries is not new. An estimated 9 million refugees have been pouring out of Syria since 2011. Ethiopia, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Cambodia, and the list goes on. And every time there is a flood of refugees, many of them drown. The last report I can find was a formal opinion by ILS on the ILS website expressing official concern at refugee drowning deaths – in 2011. We are being reactive, not proactive – speaking out and working to make refugees safer once they reach a safe haven country – with programs offered by organizations like DLRG in Germany and Lifesaving Society in Canada. What we are not doing is issuing cohesive and informative statements to the public. Our community has been silent.
There are two compelling reasons why all of us in the drowning prevention community need to speak out whenever there is a refugee crisis, a ferry accident, flooding, or any other situation where people are drowning in large numbers.
First, we have a moral and ethical responsibility. It is the right thing to do. Every last one of us works to prevent drowning because we have a passion for the issue. We understand that drowning is preventable. We know that most people do not understand drowning. We know how to prevent drowning. We have a moral imperative to share that information, especially when there is an immediate need. We do not have to comment on whether government policies are right or wrong, whether dictators are good or bad, whether countries should accept refugees or not – nor should we. We should stick to what we know. But we do have to speak out about what we know. When we don’t saturate traditional and social media with warnings about blackmarket lifejackets and inflatable rafts, warnings which have a strong chance of reaching even fleeing refugees, we become accomplices to murder by our silence. We should not be silent.
We do not decide to teach someone to swim or to rescue someone in distress only if it suits us and that person agrees with our political, social, and cultural views. Our lifeguards do not show up with a credit card processor as a precursor to rescuing someone drowning. Every day in so many ways, all of us working to end drowning use our skills in every way possible to make a difference. No one gets into drowning prevention to get rich. They do it because it is a calling, a passion, a deep belief that we can each make a difference. We have a story, we should not be silent.
The other reason is secondary to the moral and ethical imperative, but it is important. Every single time there is a story like Aylan’s, or a tsunami, or flooding, or a ferry accident, the public is made forcibly aware of drowning. For a brief period of time, they are aware of the issue of drowning. They are open to learning about drowning, to learning that drowning is preventable. After every news story where drowning is thrust into the public eye, we should be saturating media and social media with accurate and instructive information about preventing drowning. We should be discussing the role of lifeguards, of lifejackets, of learning survival swimming skills. Every single time. We should not be silent.
We need established organizations, like International Life Saving Federation (ILS) to issue press statements, not bury opinions in their website if they issue an opinion at all.
I don’t head up a major organization. I can not issue a formal press release with the reputation of such an organization behind me. What I can do, and what I invite you to do, is to try to make an immediate difference.
Please join me in Tweeting and posting the following:
#SyrianRefugees beware of fake lifejackets and rafts. We value your lives. http://nyti.ms/1KDmNJ0 #stopdrowning
Our community should not be silent. Our community should roar.