Tragic image of drowned Syrian toddler highlights human cost of refugee crisis

Tragic image of drowned Syrian toddler highlights human cost of refugee crisis

His name was Aylan.

Images of a drowned Syrian boy’s body washed ashore on a Turkish beach caught the world’s attention Wednesday and highlighted the tragic plight of thousands of migrants who are fleeing the war-torn region, and the brutality of Islamic terrorists, to seek safety and asylum.

Three-year-old Aylan Kurdi was one of at least 12 Syrians who drowned trying to reach the Greek island of Kos.

The distressing pictures show Aylan, wearing a red T-shirt and blue shorts, lying face-down in the sand in Bodrum, a popular resort city, before a Turkish police officer carries his body away. The images quickly spread across the Internet under the hashtag “#KiyiyaVuranInsanlik,” which means “humanity washed ashore,” drawing renewed attention to the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

“Words and numbers only go so far and often the world needs something so out of the ordinary [of our] experience and so jarring to the senses to force it to engage,” Rob Simpson, a British humanitarian worker in Yemen (temporarily in Jordan), said to Yahoo News. “Yes, the picture is horrific, but the story it tells is even more so; one tragedy really amplifies the other. The only thing I hope is that the debate around whether it was right or wrong to broadcast this to the world does not overshadow and outweigh the real debate lying underneath: How a child can die this way.”

Images of the toddler's body have dominated international headlines. (AFP Photo)

The widely shared image triggered intense emotions and left many who saw it seeking ways to take action to help those displaced by Syria's civil war, including Claire Nelson, a Glasgow-based businesswoman who took to Twitter after she saw the pictures.

“I stared at this picture this morning, really stared, and then I sobbed. Deeply and desperately sobbed. I sobbed for this child, his mother, his father and siblings. I sobbed for the others like him that we have seen washed ashore like litter on the beach,” she said in an email to Yahoo News.

“I’m not entirely sure what I can do to help this situation,” she continued. “But I do know that I cannot sit back and pretend that this isn’t happening. [I can't pretend] that that boy washed up on the shore wasn’t once a carefree happy child like one of my own, that there aren’t desperate parents trying to fight for and protect their children at our shores and borders. I will look and see and feel — because someone has to.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron was widely criticized for saying that the answer to the refugee crisis was bringing stability to the Middle East rather than accepting migrants into the United Kingdom, which has provided a safe haven for fewer refugees than any other European country. The comments became particularly divisive hours later when the images of Aylan appeared.

The pictures were published on the front pages of several prominent British newspapers, including the Sun, the Independent and the Daily Mail.

Nadhim Zahawi, a member of parliament from Cameron’s Conservative Party, said that the image should bring shame and that world leaders are failing in Syria.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls also shared a picture of Aylan on Twitter, saying that it is urgent for Europe to mobilize for action.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called upon other European Union nations to take in more refugees, as her country deals with record numbers.

Mustefa Ebdi, a reporter from Aylan's hometown of Kobane, told Agence France Presse said his family had moved around several times to escape the violence but ultimately decided they needed to escape to western Europe.

Aylan and Galip Kurdi died while traveling to Greece to escape from Syria. (Twitter)

On Wednesday, the Kurdi family set off from Bodrum in a small boat that flipped over in the rough waves — killing Aylan, his brother, Galip, 5, and their mother, Rihana, according to early reports.

They ultimately hoped to reach Canada, where they have relatives. Aylan's aunt, Teema Kurdi, of Vancouver, said to Canada's National Post that one of their family members received a call from her brother Abdullah Kurdi, who had been found semi-conscious and was hospitalized.

“She had got a call from Abdullah, and all he said was, my wife and two boys are dead," Teema Kurdi said.

As the world grappled with the news, artists started drawing illustrations based on the images of Aylan, which are coming to symbolize the broader refugee crisis.

More than 240,000 people have died in the Syrian Civil War since it began in March 2011. Nearly 12 million have been displaced by the violence — about half are children.