We had a civil war once in Nigeria before – and 3 other reasons we should be following the story of Omran, the Syrian boy

by Tolu Omoyeni

When photos of a little Syrian boy who had just been rescued from the rubbles of a bombed building in Aleppo surfaced on the internet on Thursday, the world stopped. Five years old, Omran Daqneesh was covered up in dust with a patch of blood on his face as he stared, confused about where he was and what was happening around him. This singular photo and video of his rescue has again drawn the world’s attention to the war in Syria.

It’s not like we were not aware of the Syrian crisis, but we’ve normalized what should be a frightening reality. In September 2015 and in a similar circumstance, a photo of a dead Syrian refugee child (three-year-old Aylan Kurdi) whose body was washed ashore a beach in Turkey pushed all of us to tears but we’ve moved on quite quickly. Unlike the dead child, Omran is alive and has been confirmed unhurt. But this is one symbol too many.

And even Nigerians should follow this dramatic story – for at least four reasons.

  1. We’ve seen a civil war in Nigeria before. This should remind us of its brutality

The war in Syria is real and we should all be concerned: It’s been five years since the Civil war between Syrian President Bashar Assad (who now has the support Russian president Putin) on one side and opposition rebels on the other side. It has been revealed that 4500 children just like Omran have been killed in the war so far. This is aside the number of adult civilians that have been caught in airstrikes and bombings. Maybe we just can’t be disturbed, don’t we all have our own issues staring at us right in our faces? It’s been 5 years of turmoil, deaths and uncontrollable tears in Syria. We should all be concerned. And deathly afraid.

Because some people are asking for those days to come again.

  1. We will all move on, of course, which is also scary

Beyond tweets and hashtags: Because the world is one large theatre stage, another drama is bound to take our attention away from Omran. It’s quite interesting how we can move on to the next trending topic so fast no matter how much emotions the previous one drew from us. Following Omran’s rescue, a video of a CNN presenter crying on live TV while reporting the kid’s story also went viral. But for how long will Omran stay viral? How long will the lens of the world stay on Omran?

And why do we move on so quickly, as a (human) race?

  1. How do we effectively move beyond the social conversation?

Beyond tweets and hashtags: It’s good that the image of this survivor has inspired compassion in many but sadly, most of these feelings are only expressed via social media. What will a retweet or repost of this Omran’s image do for him and the rest of the survivors in Syria. We guess not much. This terrorism and killings have gone on so long because the world is silent. War takes its toll on people, victims lose their voice. They need the rest of us to speak for them. Omran needs the world to be his voice. Hopefully, we won’t stop at the tweets and posts. Hopefully we will pay attention to the United Nations and others calling for cease-fires and funneling help to those who need it urgently.

  1. Will Omran open European borders to Syrian refugees?

Countries in Europe have shamefully or wisely (depending on where you stand) rejected Syrian refugees, refused them in their countries and even labelled them Islamic terrorists. These war victims daily put their lives at double the risk as they flee from the war and face the sea to cross to Europe. Yet they’re mostly denied entry. The few who struggle to get in live in terrible conditions and eventually die as they are unable to get jobs to survive on. As you know of course, the United States consulate in Nigeria told us in February that there are over 100,000 Nigerian refugees living outside Nigeria, a day after the Head of the European Unions’ delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Michel Arrion told the press there are more Nigerians who have emigrated as nurses to work in Europe than are in Nigeria. According to the Financial Times in April, ‘figures from the Italian interior ministry show the number of Nigerians arriving has increased 37 per cent this year compared with the same period in 2015’. The EU is alarmed by what it has called a ‘long term structural problem’ since Nigeria’s population is expected to hit 300,000 by 2030.


Whatever happens with policy and attitudes to refugees over the coming months, and then years, will have consequences hitting close to home, now and in the future.

Will Europe open its borders for true victims of humanitarian dangers?

Omran is a lucky survivor. There are too many more like him. The world needs to stop paying lip service only to a crisis that is not ready to end.


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