Twelve migrants thought to be Syrian refugees were feared to have drowned off the coast of the Greek island of Kos on Wednesday after the boats carrying them sank. A number of bodies washed ashore on a beach in the Turkish resort town of Bodrum, probably connected to the disaster.
The images, some of which appear above, show a tiny toddler lying lifeless on the sand. In others, we see a police officer picking up the corpse of a baby. The most heart-breaking one is a close-up of a drowned infant, his body so still and doll-like that he could be sleeping. It's not pictured above, but you can see it here and elsewhere on social media, where it has become a tragic meme.
According to Reuters, Turkish media reported that the boy was 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, a child from a largely Kurdish-dominated region in northern Syria. His 5-year-old brother also reportedly died on the same boat.
The scale of the Syrian refugee crisis is hard to grasp: About 11 million people (half of Syria's population) have either died or fled their homes since the Syrian conflict began in 2011. About 4 million of that number have been forced out of the country.
This summer alone, tens of thousands of desperate Syrian refugees made the dangerous eastern Mediterranean passage, motoring on boats from Turkey to nearby islands in Greece — the first beachhead of the European Union — and, from there, embarking on a sometimes-perilous land journey toward Western Europe.
Aid agencies estimate that, in August, around 2,000 people attempted the tricky crossing to Greece’s eastern islands every day. On Tuesday, Turkish officials said their coastguard had rescued more than 2,160 migrants from the Aegean Sea in the week prior, and more than 42,000 over the course of the year.
Kirk Day, field director for the International Rescue Committee on the Greek island of Lesbos, warned of the likelihood of further incidents in a statement:
Despite only being a few short miles, as we have seen the open-sea journey from Turkey to Greece is far from safe and will only become more dangerous as the weather turns this autumn, said The motorized dinghies used for these crossings are not suitable for rough sea journeys and can easily sink if an engine fails. Worryingly, some people are crossing without life jackets and travelling on dinghies containing just a couple of rubber-rings as floats. With very few safe and legal routes into Europe, 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 dramatic influx of refugees this year has led to hand-wringing in European capitals, heated protests from some on the right of the political spectrum, and a great outpouring of support on social media.
Shockingly, though, as my colleague Liz Sly enumerated in a recent story, despite the attention, the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations report massive funding shortfalls as they work to help millions of displaced Syrians. (See the chart above.)
European Union policymakers and leaders will convene at an emergency summit on Sept. 14 to thrash out a more coordinated plan to process, identify and aid the thousands of migrants entering the continent.
For the young toddler pictured dead in Bodrum, it’s too little, too late.
"What struck me the most were his little sneakers, certainly lovingly put on by his parents that morning as they dressed him for their dangerous journey," wrote Peter Bouckaert, director of emergencies at Human Rights Watch, in a blog post. "Staring at the image, I couldn’t help imagine that it was one my own sons lying there drowned on the beach."
The post has been updated to reflect further developments.