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opinion

I wish I had not had to travel to Brussels this week, but in honour of my family and my two little nephews, I knew I had to come. Alan and Ghalib were born during the war in Syria. They died, along with their mother Rehanna, while the war still rages on, old age being a cause of death that now comes to far too few Syrians.

People from my country have just two choices: Stay at home or in dismal refugee camps and try to survive the deadly war that shows no end, or risk everything by taking a boat and trying to reach safety. It's a choice no one should have to make.

But my brother had to make that impossible choice, and now my nephews and sister-in-law are dead – just like thousands of others. Abdullah did everything he could to push them above water, like any parent would do. But they slipped through his arms, his entire family, crushed under the waves that were washing over the boat. Their deaths have crushed our hearts, and left us empty and numb.

The children were the world to my brother and his wife. Alan and Ghalib loved Abdullah – I used to talk to four-year-old Ghalib often, hearing Alan laughing and playing in the background. I cry every day just thinking about them. Why them, why us and why not me?

When Alan's body was photographed on that beach, it was as if he became a message from God to get the world to wake up to this crisis. I can no longer look at the picture of him, but I know that millions have. His tiny body has touched the hearts of millions and finally made people realize that my people are just innocent victims. They flee by force, not by choice.

The number of victims of this terror is too big to comprehend. More than 250,000 have died in the war in Syria; more than nine million have had to flee their homes and there are four million refugees. More than 2,800 people have died at sea this year alone. On Monday, another 14 died; there are so many little children just like Alan, trying to reach Europe to escape wars they didn't begin.

The war in Syria is on Europe's doorstep. The refugee camps in the Middle East are overcrowded and poorly funded. My brother tried to survive, but had no life in Turkey – working in a clothing factory or construction, earning what he could to get by.

Too many humans need help, but there's too little humanity to welcome them. To end this tragedy, these refugees need safe and legal routes to sanctuary. That is the only way to stop them taking these terrible risks. They need open arms, not barbed wire rolled out along borders. If fear wins, we all lose – we need to build a bigger table for the needy, not a taller fence.

I hope that when politicians meet to decide what to do about the refugee crisis, they'll agree to a fair plan to help the people of Syria, not to kick them back.

I have been incredibly moved to see how many people around the world have been so touched by our tragedy. It seems incredible to me that 1.2 million people from every country in the world have supported the campaign by online activist group Avaaz urging leaders to act.

Avaaz's work, and the wave of citizens across Europe who have offered to open up their homes, who have given food and who have taken to the streets to call for a humane response, have ignited my faith in humanity and helped me through these moments of great sadness – a small light in the dark, lit by Alan for the thousands of other children that need our help.

Syrians that have fled believe that they can never go back – there's nothing left and no end in sight. We need to stop this horrible war, and it will take all the world's leaders to do it, but it cannot be left to rage on any longer.

Our families were just born in the wrong place at the wrong time. My people and others fleeing war will risk everything and do whatever it takes to get around the fences because they love their families. Today, Europe can show its humanity and agree to a shared plan to give shelter to these thousands of desperate families. I call on you all to open your hearts and doors to help.

In Alan's name, I appeal to those who have the power to stop this; don't let his death be in vain.