Much has been talked about the politics of Europe’s migrant crisis, but little has been said about the horrors and struggles refugees face in their dangerous journey to Europe — until now.
Shocking, graphic images of a toddler’s lifeless body washed up on beach have broken hearts across the Internet as the photos reveal the tragic realities Syrian refugees endure in their desperate escape to safety.
Photos released on Wednesday morning of a Syrian refugee boy, 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, who drowned in a capsized boat attempting to reach Greece and subsequently washed up on Turkey’s shore have gone viral — emphasizing the harrowing risks refugees are willing to take for a better life.
The first image shows the boy lying face down in the surf, the other shows a Turkish paramilitary officer holding the boy’s dead body as he turns away from the sea. His grim expression further elevates the heartache and pain this scene encapsulates.
The boy was part of a large group of 23 Syrians fleeing the Islamic State in Syria hoping to reach the Greek island of Kos. A dozen, including the boy, drowned, five were rescued and two reached the shore in life jackets. Five children and a woman were among the dead.
The bodies of Kurdi's 5-year-old brother, Galip, and his mother 35-year-old Rihan, were found later. His father, Abdullah Kurdi, recalled the tragic moment he lost his family to the rough waves of the sea.
In an interview with Dogan News Agency in Turkey, Abdullah said, “My children slipped from my hands. We tried to hold onto the boat but it deflated rapidly. Everyone was screaming in pitch darkness. I couldn't make my voice heard to my wife and kids."
Kurdi's family had tried to emigrate to Canada but was denied asylum, Abdullah's sister told The Ottawa Citizen.
Teema Kurdi, who lives in Vancouver, said the family's privately sponsored refugee application was rejected in June. The family had two strikes against them so the UN would not register them as refugees and the Turkish government refused to grant them exit visas.
“I was trying to sponsor them, and I have my friends and my neighbors who helped me with the bank deposits, but we couldn’t get them out, and that is why they went in the boat. I was even paying rent for them in Turkey, but it is horrible the way they treat Syrians there,” she said.
Abdullah has given up on the idea of moving to Canada and plans instead to take his dead wife and sons back to his home of Kobani, Syria and bury them — with the hope one day he will join them.
The lives lost in Wednesday’s tragedy puts the toll at 2,500 refugees who have died this summer crossing the Mediterranean to Europe.
Greece has become one of the focal points of the migrant crisis as many refugees seeking asylum in Europe land in the Greek islands of Kos or Lesbos before continuing their journey onward to northern parts of Europe.
The Greek government has announced emergency measures to handle the flow of migrants flooding the country that have erupted chaos over fears of disease spreading due to the influx of migrants. The measures are meant to improve conditions for both residents and refugees.
“There is no migration issue, remove that – it is a refugee issue,” Greece’s migration minister, Yiannis Mouzalas, said.
The heart wrenching images can hopefully provide greater incentive for Europe to collaborate on a more structured, humanitarian approach to the crisis as opposed to the scattered response governments have had of late.
"These deaths are utterly preventable if Europe actually had a policy in place to provide safe passage for people fleeing the war in Syria," Human Rights Watch Emergency Director Peter Bouckaert told The WorldPost.
"I think that picture perfectly demonstrates the consequences of the European failure to come to terms with the reality of this very profound crisis."
European countries have reacted to the flow of refugees by building fences and considering anti-migration laws instead of granting access to asylum procedures. The response has overwhelmingly been one lacking in support and avoiding tackling the problem as a human rights issue.
The insufficient political tactics and unwillingness for the EU to devise a unified strategy have thus exacerbated the refugee crisis and turned an already perilous journey into an even greater danger.
"Refugees are left with no option but to take extraordinarily dangerous illegal journeys by sea to Greece and Italy. With an estimated 200,000 refugees still planning to make the journey to Greece this year, it is inevitable that we will see a further loss of life until Europe’s policies change," the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement on Wednesday.
Twitter was flooded on Wednesday and Thursday with moving illustrations of Kurdi in protest of international governments' inaction to the refugee crisis.
On Friday, the Syndey Morning Herald published an anonymous group's obituary to Kurdi.
Someone placed this moving obituary for Aylan Kurdi in an Australian News Paper: pic.twitter.com/ZmN5rr5LC1— Ali Hamoudi (@AHamoudi1) September 4, 2015
“ You did not deserve to drown in the coldness of water and in the coldness of human indifference.
You were not a Migrant. You were not a Refugee. You were a 3yr old little boy wanting to play safely, away from the threats of violence and war.
In Heaven, you will be nursed by those who held you, by those who kissed you and by those who risked everything in the hope of you reaching the shores of safety.
Rest In Peace Aylan Kurdi. May God forgive us for failing you.”
Twitter also lit up with heartfelt tributes for Kurdi using the hashtag #HumanityWashedAshore.
On Sunday, the European Union announced it will be holding emergency talks on Sept. 14 to (hopefully) quell the crisis.
"The situation of migration phenomena outside and inside the European Union has recently taken unprecedented proportions," the Luxembourg Justice and Home Affairs Department said in a statement. "In order to assess the situation on the ground, the political actions underway and to discuss the next steps in order to strengthen the European response, [we have] decided to convene an extraordinary JHA Council."
Germany’s Prime Minister, Angela Merkel, echoed the urgency of the issue on Monday, implying a more compassionate, humanitarian response to the refugee crisis:
“If Europe fails on the question of refugees, this close connection with universal civil rights ... will be destroyed, and it won't be the Europe we want.”