Hoping to claim asylum there, many are fleeing conflicts – in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – that have helped to produce the largest number of displaced people since World War II. As formal means of seeking asylum remain difficult to pursue, people are forced to take perilous sea journeys. The Greek island has been the first stop in Europe for many of them, with as many as 2,500 arriving there a day last month. Hundreds of thousands have pushed through Eastern Europe in bids to reach Germany, Britain or Scandinavia.
The picture is a bit muted compared with others showing the celebrations of those who just completed the crossing from Turkey. Pictures of migrants and refugees hugging tightly, posing for selfies and swimming off the coast that their boats just met are shared widely, paralleling others that depict the darker side of the crisis.
The other image shows the body of a young girl secured in a bright-orange life jacket, half her face underwater, being pulled to shore by a coast guard diver. The girl, whose identity remains unknown, drowned alongside several others after a wooden boat carrying them and nearly three dozen others sank after it crashed with a coast guard vessel during a rescue operation.
Her death makes her one of the more than 3,100 people who have died this year while crossing to Europe on rubber dinghies and wooden vessels.
This picture, along with others in a sequence that shows her body being carried, conjured similarly tough images from early September of a Syrian Kurdish toddler, face down, dead on a Turkish beach. Alan Kurdi, who was 3, drowned off the coast of Turkey after the boat carrying his family capsized before reaching Greece. His mother and brother also died. His family had fled Syria’s brutal war, and pictures of Alan’s lifeless body ignited one of the largest responses yet to the spiraling refugee crisis spawned by the conflict.
Pictures of drowned migrants and refugees have become routine, but the images of Kurdi prompted an outpouring of support for refugees, including pledges from officials to take in more of them and calls-to-action from celebrities. Humanitarian organizations like Doctors Without Borders said the impact of the images led to a significant boost in donations for relief operations.
Reaction to Thursday’s incident was noticeably quieter. The images of the little girl didn’t go viral. There was no volley of sorrow and regret expressed by officials from around the world. People, it seems, may be growing accustomed to such tragedy, said Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch’s emergency director.
“This is continuing to happen, day in and day out,” he said, reached by phone.
Bouckaert spent the week on Lesbos documenting the unrelenting arrivals of refugees and migrants. One Syrian woman gave birth as soon as she came ashore, he said. Other refugees were packed so tightly on boats that they were crushed, possibly breaking bones.
“Many of them are suffering from serious wounds when they arrive," Bouckaert said, "but there aren’t ambulances waiting for them when they get to the beach." Despite global attention to the crisis, he said little action has been taken to resolve the issue of refugees perishing on Greece-bound vessels.
“I’m sick and tired of expressions of sympathy. What we need is action," Bouckaert said. "People are dying."