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Death of drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi jolts world leaders

A paramilitary police officer carries the body of a Syrian child after a number of migrants died and a smaller number were reported missing when boats carrying them to the Greek island of Kos capsized near the Turkish resort of Bodrum early Wednesday. (DHA via AP)

Western leaders reacted with shock and solemnity a day after the image of a dead Syrian toddler lying alone on a Turkish beach captured international headlines. The 3-year-old child, Aylan Kurdi, drowned in the Aegean Sea along with 11 others after two flimsy boats carrying him, family members and other Syrian refugees sank en route to the Greek island of Kos.

The photographs of his body have become a rallying a call for international action in the face of a staggering refugee crisis playing out across the Mediterranean.

"What has drowned in the Mediterranean is not only the refugees," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a summit in Ankara. "Humanity has drowned in the Mediterranean Sea."

Erdogan has repeatedly called on Europe to help shoulder his country's overwhelming burden: Nearly 2 million Syrian refugees are living in Turkey. The Turkish president insisted that he would not close the door to other Syrians fleeing their nation's hideous civil war, which has displaced or led to the deaths of roughly half of Syria's total population.

"The global security system does not function properly," Erdogan said, adding that, as a result, the Mediterranean had turned into a "graveyard."

Many Syrian refugees struggle to procure exit visas from Turkish authorities, meaning that the risky passage on rubber dinghies to nearby Greek islands is often their only route to Europe.

Politicians in Western Europe mourned young Kurdi's death.

"He had a name: Alyan Kurdi. Urgent action required — a Europe-wide mobilization is urgent," French Prime Minister Manuel Valls wrote in a tweet that included the now-famous photo of a Turkish gendarme lifting the toddler's corpse.

Valls's boss, President François Hollande, appeared at a news conference in Paris alongside Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who made this impassioned statement:

Is there anybody on the planet who could not be moved by what they saw in the papers — anybody with a sense of humanity — who saw the body of a young boy washed up on a beach like driftwood. This is a human catastrophe.

Still, despite the horror of the image and the desperation of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees and other migrants attempting to reach safer ground in Europe, there are profound divisions on the continent over how to address the crisis.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose country has become one of the focal points of the migrant influx, warned Thursday that settling the throngs of Muslim refugees had "explosive consequences for the whole of Europe" and endangered the continent's supposedly Christian identity.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose government has been criticized for not taking in more Syrian refugees, said that, "as a father, I felt deeply moved" by the image."Britain is a moral nation, and we will fulfill our moral responsibilities," he added, but he argued that that a solution had to be found in Syria rather than in Europe.

"We have to try and stabilize the countries from which these people are coming," Cameron said.

An online petition demanding that Britain accept more asylum-seekers reached more than 100,000 signatures, meaning that the question may have to be debated in Parliament. Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland and a trenchant critic of Cameron's conservative government, decried the prime minister's "'walk-on-by-the-other-side' approach" and pledged that Scotland itself would do what it could to aid Syrian refugees.

"I will be far from the only person reduced to tears last night at the picture of a little boy washed up on a beach. That wee boy has touched our hearts," Sturgeon said. "But his is not an isolated tragedy. He and thousands like him whose lives are at risk is not somebody else’s responsibility; they are the responsibility of all of us."

After initial reports suggested that the Kurdi family had had a Canadian asylum request turned down, officials in Ottawa offered their sympathies.

Chris Alexander, Canada's minister for citizenship and immigration, said he would look into "facts of the case" relating to the Kurdi family's application.

"The tragic photo of young Aylan Kurdi and the news of the death of his brother and mother broke hearts around the world," Alexander said. "Like all Canadians, I was deeply saddened by that image and of the many other images of the plight of the Syrian and Iraqi migrants fleeing persecution."

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