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This cropped version of the photograph shows a Turkish police officer standing next to the body of the young boy—believed to be a Syrian refugee—who washed ashore on Wednesday after an attempt to cross to Greece ended in drowning. (Photograph: Reuter)

'Humanity Washes Ashore' Goes Viral as Photos Capture Horror of War, Plight of Refugees


Jon Queally

A series of heartbreaking photos showing a young boy—believed to be a refugee from Syria—washed up on the beach in Turkey after a failed attempt to cross the sea to Greece is being shared and discussed across the world on Wednesday after many media outlets decided to publish the images as a way to confront Europeans—and humanity at large—with a "stark reminder" that "more and more refugees are dying in their desperation to flee persecution and reach safety."

"This tragic image of a little boy who’s lost his life fleeing Syria is shocking and is a reminder of the dangers children and families are taking in search of a better life. This child’s plight should concentrate minds and force the EU to come together and agree to a plan to tackle the refugee crisis." —Justin Forsyth, Save the Children

Under the social media hashtag #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik (which translates from the Turkish as "humanity washes ashore"), the photos have spurred a global outcry surrounding the plight of those families and individuals who have become victims to the "callous indifference" of western nations and what international aid groups have decried as a broken system for the world's ballooning refugee population.

As the Guardian reports:

The full horror of the human tragedy unfolding on the shores of Europe was brought home on Wednesday as images of the lifeless body of a young boy – one of at least 12 Syrians who drowned attempting to reach the Greek island of Kos – encapsulated the extraordinary risks refugees are taking to reach the west.

The picture, taken on Wednesday morning, depicted the dark-haired toddler, wearing a bright-red T-shirt and shorts, washed up on a beach, lying face down in the surf not far from Turkey’s fashionable resort town of Bodrum.

A second image portrays a grim-faced policeman carrying the tiny body away. Within hours it had gone viral becoming the top trending picture on Twitter under the hashtag #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik (humanity washed ashore).

The two images described can be see here and here. (Warning: these images are graphic and may be distressing to view.)

Though only one young life out of the nearly three thousand people estimated to have died so far this year while attempting to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea, the pictures of the young boy appear to have captured the collective sorrow of those sickened by a world in which children—with or without their families—are forced to face such dangers in order to escape the threats of war and impoverishment that have made their homelands unlivable.

(Editor's note: Despite agreeing with the sentiment that such images should be seen as a way for the general public to be confronted with the horrors wrought by endless war, a global assault on human rights, and the scourge of poverty and statelessness that results, Common Dreams has decided not to publish the images on our pages given their ubiquity elsewhere and in deference to the unidentified child's family and anyone who may be needlessly traumatized by viewing such images.)

Responding to the impact the photo was having, Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children, told the Guardian the "tragic image of a little boy who’s lost his life fleeing Syria is shocking and is a reminder of the dangers children and families are taking in search of a better life. This child’s plight should concentrate minds and force the EU to come together and agree to a plan to tackle the refugee crisis."

Explaining why it published the un-edited photos prominently on its homepage, the UK-based Independent said it made the decision "because, among the often glib words about the 'ongoing migrant crisis,' it is all too easy to forget the reality of the desperate situation facing many refugees."

While dramatic images of desperate refugees "emerge almost every day," the newspaper continued, "the attitude of Europe's policymakers and much of the public have continued to harden."

In an open letter to "anyone who ever talked down the refugee crisis," the Independent's sister publication, i100, went further on the necessity of the general public seeing the photos. Addressed to a cross-section of individuals and groups of people who have framed the plight of refugees seeking asylum in Europe as a "migrant crisis"—specifically [British Prime Minister] David Cameron, Theresa May, Nigel Farage, the Daily Express, protesters in Germany, Katie Hopkins, Philip Hammond, anyone who has ever written a disparaging comment on a Mail Online article, police in Hungary, the governments of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovakia, the people of Britain, Czech police, tourists in Kos, Tony Abbott, cartoonists, Ukip MEPs and people on Twitter—the letter chastises those who have disparaged and dehumanized those desperate enough to make the journey while "spreading anti-migrant and anti-refugee sentiment" across Europe and beyond. It states:

Some of you have hauled refugees off trains and written numbers on their arms.

Some of you have simply built a wall.

Somehow you've lost sight of the simple fact that our fellow humans are in dire need of help, having fled death and destruction in their homelands only to face an even more perilous journey into Europe.

Somehow you've stopped seeing refugees, and they are refugees, for what they are, and tried to deny them the assistance they are legally, and morally, entitled to.

But it has to end, and end now. It has to end because people are dying in their thousands, because Europe's reputation as a champion of human rights is disintegrating, because if we don't act now we will regret it for the rest of our history.

"Enough is enough," the letter concluded. "Attitudes have to change. See the human and not the imagined danger that anything is under threat apart from these people's lives.  A refugee crisis unlike any other since the Second World War is unfurling on our doorstep and now is the time to help people who need it the most."

Despite the distressing and repetitive imagery, the social media conversation surrounding the images continues on Twitter and other platforms.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

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