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Images of drowned Syrian child spark horror over Europe migrant crisis

Heart-rending pictures of a toddler's lifeless body washed ashore on a Turkish beach sparked horror on Wednesday as the cost of Europe's burgeoning refugee crisis hit home.

world Updated: Sep 03, 2015 22:21 IST
A Turkish gendarmerie carries a young migrant, who drowned in a failed attempt to sail to the Greek island of Kos, in the coastal town of Bodrum, Turkey. (Reuters Photo)
A Turkish gendarmerie carries a young migrant, who drowned in a failed attempt to sail to the Greek island of Kos, in the coastal town of Bodrum, Turkey. (Reuters Photo)

Heart-rending pictures of a toddler's lifeless body washed ashore on a Turkish beach sparked horror on Wednesday as the cost of Europe's burgeoning refugee crisis hit home.

The images of a tiny child lying face down in the surf at one of Turkey's main tourist resorts has once more put a human face on the dangers faced by tens of thousands of desperate people who risk life and limb to seek a new life in Europe.

Wearing a red t-shirt and blue shorts, the child is believed to be one of least 12 Syrians trying to reach Greece who died when their boats sank.

The bleak image spread like lightening through social media and dominated front pages from Spain to Sweden, with commentators unanimous it had once again rammed home the horrors faced by tens of thousands of people fleeing from war and conflict.

Tagged with the Turkish hashtag "#KiyiyaVuranInsanlik" ("Humanity washed ashore"), the picture made it to Twitter's top world trending topics.

"Tiny victim of a human catastrophe," said Britain's Daily Mail, while Italy's La Repubblica tweeted the words: "One photo to silence the world."

"If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?" Britain's Independent said in remarks echoed in newspapers across the continent.



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A young migrant, who drowned in a failed attempt to sail to the Greek island of Kos, lies on the shore in the Turkish coastal town of Bodrum, Turkey. (Reuters Photo)

As Europeans reeled once again at human cost of the biggest movement of people since World War II, France, Italy and Germany urged a rethink of European asylum rules to allow for a fairer distribution of migrants throughout the 28-member bloc.

The call came as tensions soared between European states over how to tackle the huge influx.

Over the last week, there has been a dramatic spike in the numbers of migrants leaving Turkey by sea for Greece in the hope of finding new lives in the European Union.

'15 in a boat for 4'

The Turkish coastguard said two boats had sunk early on Wednesday after setting off from its Bodrum peninsula for the Greek island of Kos.

Speaking to AFP, a rescue worker from Bodrum identified the boy as Aylan Kurdi. Media reports said he was three-years-old.

He said the child was travelling with his family on a tiny boat built for four people but which was carrying 15 refugees believed to be from the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane who fled to Turkey last year to escape Islamic State (IS) extremists.

The toddler was one of at least 12 Syrian migrants who died, five of whom were children. His brother Galip also died. Another 15 people were rescued.

"The boat sank around 4am (0100 GMT), close to the lighthouse in the Akyarlar region," the rescue worker said, suggesting the boats had capsized.

"Most probably they were panicked and many didnt know how to swim."

It was the latest in a string of tragedies involving migrants which has gripped the European public, prompting urgent calls for EU members states to do more.

Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch's director of emergencies said the Syrians had sought shelter in Europe but paid with their lives.

They "almost certainly died as they tried to reach safety in Europe by boarding a smuggler's boat. Instead they ended up as the latest victims of Europe's paltry response in the face of a growing crisis," he wrote in an acerbic article.



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A Turkish gendarmerie stands next to a young migrant, who drowned in a failed attempt to sail to the Greek island of Kos, as he lies on the shore in the coastal town of Bodrum, Turkey. (Reuters Photo)



London under pressure

In Britain, where Prime Minister David Cameron's government has accepted a lower number of asylum seekers in proportion to its population than most other EU countries, a flurry of petitions have sprung up demanding change.

By Wednesday, some 44,000 people had signed a petition urging the government to accept more asylum seekers, the number doubling in the space of a few hours.

"The UK is not offering proportional asylum in comparison with European counterparts," it read. "We can't allow refugees who have risked their lives to escape horrendous conflict and violence to be left living in dire, unsafe and inhumane conditions in Europe."

The government is obliged to respond if a petition has over 10,000 signatures, and if it reaches 100,000, the issue will be considered for debate in parliament.

In a joint statement late on Wednesday, Germany, France and Italy urged an overhaul of European laws on asylum in a bid to ensure "a fair distribution" of migrants throughout the bloc.

'Let us go!'

Meanwhile, angry migrants continued protesting at Budapest's main international station a day after police blocked them from boarding trains to Austria and Germany, with the numbers outside Keleti station swelling to 2,000 on Wednesday evening.

"No police! No police!" and "Germany! Germany!" they chanted, some running a police line and hurling plastic bottles as riot police pushed them back.

"My friends got on a train on Monday? Why the hell don't they let me go too, all of us?" fumed a 41-year-old Syrian refugee called Ohlit.

During the evening sporadic fighting broke out between migrants, while a small group of far-right skinheads turned up to taunt them, also sparking some scuffles.

Meanwhile, nearly 3,000 migrants were rescued Wednesday off the Libyan coast, the Italian coastguard and Doctors without Borders (MSF) said.