Friday, September 04, 2015

Picture of death wakes the world up to refugee crisis

The tragedy of war was graphically illustrated this week by the publication of a series of photographs depicting a 3-year-old boy drowned and washed up on a Turkish beach.

Aylan Kurdi came from the Syrian-Kurdish town of Kobane. He had been travelling with his father, mother and brother, 5-year-old Galip, who had attempted to make the short but dangerous crossing from Turkey to Greece.

He was just one of at least 12 Syrians who drowned attempting to reach Greece that day, a day that turned to tragedy for more than one family fleeing war.

Photos of tragedy

Newspapers around the world published some of the pictures, taken by photo-journalist Nilufer Demir of the Dogan News Agency [Washington Post]. Many held back from publishing the most graphic pictures but even the less disturbing picture of a police officer carrying away the limp body of 3-year-old Aylan was enough to awaken the conscience of many European politicians and citizens.


In an interview with one paper the photographer said she felt she had no option other to record the tragedy [Hurriyet Daily News / Washington Post].

The debate concerning whether to publish graphic photographs or even taking them in the first place has continued for many years [News Activist]. Western media in particular shy away from showing dead bodies, particularly when the victim is a westerner. And even if they do publish they are often heavily pixelated.

But the tragedy that unfurled on a Turkish beach this week was one many media outlets could not ignore. Some newspapers even went as far as showing a close-up of the limp body of the child.  

Wake-up call

The image was sickening, yes. Perhaps also an invasion of privacy. However it could be argued that many people needed to be shocked into realising the growing human tragedy that is unfolding as a result of the spread of radical Islam and the brutality of war from which many of these people are fleeing.

One amongst thousands

This is but one child. One small victim amongst the thousands that have died in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

By early August 2015, the opposition activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights [SOHR] reported the number of children killed in the conflict had risen to 11,964, while at the same time 7,719 women were also killed. And in the last few months alone more than 2,000 migrants or refugees have perished in their vain attempts to reach European shores.

Blame game

There are many arguments concerning who is to blame. There are some who will say that the Blair/Bush coalition ignited the powder keg having invaded Afghanistan and subsequently Iraq which destabilised the region and allowed groups like ISIS to develop and flourish.  The overthrow of Gaddafi has also led to an exodus of refugees fleeing a now unstable Libya.

None of these countries, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya etc were particularly pleasant prior to Western interference. But they were stable and the number of people fleeing in years past was minimal. However, after years of war and chaos it is unsurprising that so many are desperate to leave these places.

Carrying the can

Unfortunately it is Europe that is picking up the pieces and burdening the cost as thousands of refugees arrive daily. Meanwhile the US which played a major part in creating the situation which triggered these events stands idly by and makes little comment and offers no help or solution.

However some have begun to raise the issue and asked whether other countries should also do more. "When people talk about a refugee crisis and the moral obligations that implies, that is not just an obligation for Britain or for Europe. People go back to the Second World War and the huge refugee crisis that involved and of course very large number went to the United States, to Canada, to South America, to Australia and other countries," Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary, told Radio 4 [Telegraph].

Opening doors

Even before this week's events refugees were being helped by people, some of them former politicians who felt it necessary to open their home. Former Hungary PM Ferenc Gyurcsány speaking to CNN's Christiane Amanpour said he has been welcoming dozens of refugees and opened his home up to the desperate influx of people escaping war torn Syria and Iraq [MSN video / CNN video].

Meanwhile the current Hungarian government has been far less welcoming and taken a hard line on the refugees, something the country's former PM Gyurcsány Ferenc said he failed to understand

The situation in Europe has been described as the biggest refugee crisis since WWII [Hindustan Times].

And one man who escaped that particular exodus over 70 years ago spoke of his experiences to CNN's Christiane Amanpour. Kindertransport survivor John Fieldsend expressed his thanks to the British for saving him but said that the UK Prime Minister David Cameron should act on Europe's refugee crisis immediately [CNN video].

Taking stock

The pitiful sight of a drowned boy was enough to push the British PM to make a U-turn. Only the day before the pictures were published PM David Cameron rejected the idea that Britain should take more refugees.

PM Cameron said he was saddened by the scenes he saw on television and said Britain would act with its "head and heart" and accept a further 4,000 refugees [BBC / BBC / CNN].

For the father of Aylan, it is a personal tragedy. He has lost his family and says he has plans to return to Syria [Guardian / CNN / Telegraph].

The photograph is tragic and shocking but it needed to be seen in order to open people's eyes to the unfurling disaster.  Many words are spoken but this picture says more than words can say. And it is one that has done more to wake up politicians to the growing refugee crisis.

No easy solutions

Europe and other countries must also recognise that there are two crises. One is a migrant crisis, and the other is a refugee crisis. Determining who are legitimate asylum seekers is difficult. Integration and affording the costs are going to prove difficult in the short and long term, but Europe and arguably the US and other countries have a responsibility if not just for humanitarian grounds.

There also needs to be a reasoned debate on how the international community deals with the continuing turmoil in Libya, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

No-one wants yet more military action, yet some intervention may well be necessary to curtail the growth of ISIS and the continuing descending spiral of chaos that is enveloping these countries.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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