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Migrant crisis: When a toddler's photo changed UK govt's policy

world Updated: Sep 09, 2015 10:50 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times

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 picture may be worth a thousand words, but in the charged atmosphere of anti-immigration rhetoric in Britain, the powerful photo of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up dead on a Turkish beach has changed the Conservative government’s policy.

Hours before the photo emerged, Prime Minister David Cameron was resisting pressure to ‘do more’ about the humanitarian crisis that is not only challenging European countries but also the basis of the Schengen Area and the European Union.

Besides tugging at the heart strings in Britain and across the globe, the photo also helped alter the discourse: ‘migrants’ were soon termed ‘refugees’ across the news media, piling more pressure on Cameron, for whom cutting immigration has been top priority.

“As a father I am deeply moved”, Cameron said, while chancellor George Osborne was “very distressed”, and Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was “reduced to tears” at the image and attacked the Cameron government’s policy towards the crisis.

Accepting more Syrian refugees was not the answer to the crisis, Cameron had said before the photo emerged, even as thousands signed a petition to his government to do more. Britain is one of the largest aid providers to Syrian refugees.

Cameron said after the Alan’s face-down photo emerged: “Britain is a moral nation and we will fulfil our moral responsibilities”, and announced that “thousands” more Syrian refugees would be accepted and rehabilitated in Britain.

He said on Friday: “Britain has accepted 5,000 Syrian refugees…As I said earlier, we will accept thousands more and we will keep that under review. We will soon announce resettlement plans for thousands for refugees to offer a more safe and direct route”.

Contrarian voices, however, continue to be heard amidst the welling support for refugees.

Columnist Fraser Nelson wrote in The Daily Telegraph: “A photograph of a drowned child is heartbreaking, but should not change policy: a botched response can lead to many more dead children”.

He added: “There is, of course, more that Britain could and should do for Syrians…But let’s not pretend our doing so will help the rest of Syria’s four million registered refugees…The Great Migration is a 21st century problem, far bigger than Syria and bigger than the authorities in Brussels seem able to comprehend”

“Europe, in short, needs to begin a new conversation”.

Read:Drowned Syrian toddlers and their mother buried in Kobani

My family died in my arms, one by one: Aylan Kurdi's father