Reemi: a death to shame all of Europe

Reemi: a death to shame all of Europe
Three-year-old Reemi survived the bombs of Assad, only to die when her refugee boat sank in the Mediterranean. Europe must share the blame for her death and the thousands of others born of desperation.
5 min read
07 Dec, 2014
Reemi will never know the freedom her mother so desperately wanted [supplied]

Reemi was born in Damascus early 2012, mere months after protests against the Assad regime had begun and just weeks before the Syrian government decided to shell and besiege where she lived in the Yarmouk refugee camp.

Her family managed to escape to another part of Damascus, where shelling was less of a threat.

Reemi was saved. She was saved from the months of deliberate starvation that Bashar al-Assad would impose on Yarmouk, and, unlike other babies, she would have food, clean nappies and a loving mother by her side.

These comforts were were dreams beyond reach for many of other babies in Syria.

Reemi was lucky, by the standard of children in Syria. She did not starve to death, she did not freeze to death, she was not sick, she did not get blown to pieces and nor did her mummy or daddy.

But her luck was about to run out as the regime decided to expand its killing spree to Damascus.

The road to freedom

Reemi's mother could not bear the little baby she adored more than life itself to be harmed. So Reemi, now two, began a new journey. A dangerous road journey that would last almost nine months and take her and her mother from Damascus to Raqqa and from Raqqa to Turkey, to smugglers who would take them by boat to Europe, where her life of freedom, safety, comfort and hope could finally begin.

Reemi did not know where she was going, but she was happier than ever. She could feel the excitement and the tension and the hope in her mother's eyes. Her mother was relieved to have escaped Syria with her baby. It seemed that now they could finally live a life that did not include a daily dose of death, starvation and horror.

"Thank God," she wailed. "We made it, I know we will be okay, God got us this far." And with that hope Reemi boarded the boat in her mother's arms.

It was a boat of hope for all the men, women and their children. They had waited for three years, almost all of Reemi's life, to be rescued from a government that had cut off the gas, water and electricity, and was daily lighting the Syrian sky with bombs that would fall on anyone who lived in areas that no longer supported it.

     We made it, I know we will be okay, God got us this far.

They had waited for the international community to declare a no-fly zone, but it did not come. They waited for the west to arm the opposition, but that did not happen. They were forced to eat grass and stray cats as they faced starvation. They waited for aid, and it did not come. They waited until all their hope was gone and all they had was a boat ride to anywhere in Europe.

There was no hope left in Syria. In many parts like Homs, and Aleppo, there was no one left to hope. Some 500,000 civilians had been injured and 200,000 killed by the government for daring to wish for freedom.

Safety on the horizon

And so, Reemi and her mother prepared for the boat to freedom. "Finally," her mother said in a last minute call to a friend, "We are getting on the boat." She did not care that this was yet another danger "We lost everything, what is there left to lose? We have to try."

Reemi was so excited, her mother told her friend. But Reemi was too young to comprehend the journey, and what lay ahead. To her, the boat was a big toy bobbing in the water.

Two days later, the boat had capsized. Greek coastguards thought they had rescued everyone on board. But one little girl was missing.

As those who were on the boat all reached the shore, there was hope that one of them had rescued Reemi. But Reemi was gone, and her mother's screams of anguish were all that was left.

In the end Reemi was not starved, besieged or killed by Assad, but by the hope of her mother that they could finally escape the war. To their dream. To Europe.

After all, that's where the civilisation and democracy and freedom that Syrians dream of and die for exists.

As I write, Reemi's body is still lost to the ocean. She is one of the 2,000 Syrians the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says have drowned trying to reach Europe.

But her death has not sparked an outrage, nor has it entered the news, nor has it been written about or reported on by the nations full of hope and democracy whose shores she had tried to reach.

Apathy to misery

As I work in the media I can safely say that no one mentioned her because she is "not interesting", because "people are bored of Syrian refugee stories", because they want to know about the Islamic Sate group - "it's more exciting" - because "even though it's tragic, it's not on anyone's agenda".

It is difficult to define civilisation or democracy or humanity to a child as young as Reemi, but we should not ignore the fact that she died as her mother searched for it. And, had it existed in our hearts, Reemi would have known because it would have saved her from her untimely, uncivilised, undemocratic, inhumane death.

Reemi was not killed by Assad, she was killed by us - those of us in this part of the "civilised" world that looked on and let her get on a boat that would most likely capsize.

She was killed by us because we have the power, the strength, the wealth, the democracy to reach her and save her and we choose to look away and complain that "each to their own".

Right-wing headlines scream of lack of space and money for Syrian refugees.

I cannot hug Reemi and tell her that I am sorry I did not save her, because her body is still lost, but I can assure the other Reemis in Syria who dream of making the hopeful boat journey that they should not try - not because they may not make it, but because the freedom and humanity that they will come in search of in Europe is also lost at sea alongside Reemi's tiny body.