Warning: This story contains disturbing images. Although, not graphic. Several people on social media have said that we don’t need to see these pictures in order to be aware of the human cost that the refugee crisis is having. But others have commented that seeing such images can help bring home the horror of a crisis.
Photographs of a toddler’s lifeless body washed ashore on a Turkish beach after a migrant boat sank sparked an international outcry on social media on Wednesday, in a poignant image of the refugee crisis.
Wearing a red t-shirt and sneakers, the three-year-old Syrian boy was found lying face down on a beach after an inflatable boat carrying 16 refugees capsized off the Turkish coast.
Humanity washed ashore
The boy was among at least 11 other Syrians who died attempting to journey by sea on an overcrowded dinghy to the Greek island of Kos. Among the dead were five children and a woman, Mashable reported .
Another 15 people were rescued and the coastguard, backed by helicopters, was continuing its search for three more who were still missing, a statement said.
Turkish media identified the boy as 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, whose 5-year-old brother also died on the same boat. The Guardian reported that he was from the north Syrian town of Kobani near the Turkish border, scene of heavy fighting between ISIS militants and Kurdish regional forces a few months ago.
The images showed little Kurdi lying face down in the sand near Bodrum, one of Turkey’s prime tourist resorts, before he was picked up by a police officer in photographs.
A distressing footage shows rescue workers carrying away the dead body of the boy.
There is outrage — but what next?
It has become a tragically common site to see the corpses of refugees fleeing the proliferating conflicts in the Middle East wash up on Mediterranean shores. So far this year, more than 2,500 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean, the UNHCR said.
Little Aylan had only ever known war. An immensely horrible war characterized only by intense violence, the use of chemical weapons, the Islamic State and al-Nusra, Bashar al-Assad’s thugs, and the various international actors who give these barbarians succor. He was, perhaps for the first time in his short and cruel life, at peace.
Of all the appalling images to emerge from the Syrian conflict, this might have been the most soul crushing. This latest tangible sign was also, perhaps, the most heartbreaking evidence of the harsh reality the migrants go through.
Social media and its role
The photos of the boy have sparked a debate about the role of social media in documenting the refugee crisis and the ethical implications of sharing such graphic imagery.
These photos show but one tiny victim of Europe’s huge refugee crisis. What have we become? What have we done to the Syrian boy lying dead in the surf? Sometimes we need to see such horrific images like that Syrian boy’s body on the beach.
The hashtag #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik (Humanity washed ashore) made it to Twitter’s top world trending topics after the image was widely shared.
At least, for now, social media is doing the right thing by raising awareness. Like the tweets which got the picture into the harsh limelight, shared by influential activists like Peter Bouckaert, the emergency director for Human Rights Watch:
In a blog post he said, ” Some smugglers are so organized they even give receipts for their criminal business, but they care little for the lives of those they transport and make fortunes from. Their brutality may be expected, but what is inexcusable is the indifference and obstacles placed in their path by Europe’s leaders.” Documenting the journeys of Syrian refugees, he revealed that his notebooks are full of tragedy.
Others too shared the pictures with thought-provoking comments:
The photos after this link just reduced me to tears. We have a responsibility to see this not as an abstract problem https://t.co/pdH4oqToph— Rupert Myers (@RupertMyers) September 2, 2015
And then there were others who couldn’t help but remember similar tragedies which shook the world’s sensibilities:
Artists around the world have expressed anguish and grief via these interpretations of young Aylan on that beach.
The question that remains to be answered is if these pictures will, finally, wake up Europe to the crisis on their doorstop? Could this be the moment when countries like UK finally find it in their hearts to be compassionate to the plight of the refugees?
But, those who have decided not to care will not be moved.
Yet, we dare not look away. We must not.
(With inputs from Reuters)