I thought long and hard before I retweeted the photo. It shows a lifeless toddler, lying face down on a popular Turkish beach, one of eleven Syrians who have almost certainly died as they tried to reach safety in Europe by boarding a smugglers boat. Instead they ended up as the latest victims of Europes paltry response in the face of a growing crisis.
What struck me the most were his little sneakers, certainly lovingly put on by his parents that morning as they dressed him for their dangerous journey. One of my favourite moments of the morning is dressing my kids and helping them put on their shoes. They always seem to manage to put something on backwards, to our mutual amusement. Staring at the image, I couldnt help imagine that it was one of my own sons lying there drowned on the beach.
I am currently in Hungary, documenting the journeys of Syrian refugees, the very journey that today took another young life. Its easy to blame the parents for exposing their son to such deadly danger, but only if you forget the barrel bombs and Islamic State (also known as ISIS) beheadings that they are fleeing. All morning yesterday at the Serbian-Hungarian border, I saw Syrian parents determinedly walking with their children trying to remove them from the horrors of the slaughter in Syria, which have been allowed to continue for four years, and to the promise of security in Europe. Those parents are heroes; I admire their sheer determination to bring their children to a better life.
Humanity Washed Ashore
The picture, taken on Wednesday morning, depicted the dark-haired toddler, wearing a bright-red T-shirt and shorts, washed up on a beach, lying face down in the surf not far from Turkeys fashionable resort town of Bodrum.
Turkish media identified the boy as three-year-old Aylan Kurdi and reported that his five-year-old brother had also met a similar death. Both had hailed from the town of Kobani, the site of fierce fighting between ISIS and Kurdish forces earlier this year.
Sadly, all along the journey, they are faced with hurdles and hostility. Some smugglers are so organized they even give receipts for their criminal business, but they care little for the lives of those they transport and make fortunes from. Their brutality may be expected, but what is inexcusable is the indifference and obstacles placed in their path by Europes leaders.
Almost every Syrian I have interviewed has had a close brush with death on their journey, often involving sinking boats. Now, in Hungary, they find their path blocked again, with thousands made to sleep in the streets without any help from the Hungarian authorities.
My notebooks are full of tragedy. Ali Pintar, a Syrian Kurd, fled with his three children after ISIS tried to take control of his hometown of Qamishli by sending suicide car bombs into the town. He has his train tickets to Munich, but police are preventing him from even entering the train station, so he has been sleeping rough for the last three nights with his children. He is utterly dejected, telling me of the humiliation he has faced: It would have been better to stay in Syria. There, you only die once when there is an explosion or something. Here, I feel like I die a thousand deaths each day.
Some say the picture is too offensive to share online or print in our newspapers. But what I find offensive is that drowned children are washing up on our shorelines, when more could have been done to prevent their deaths.
It was not an easy decision to share a brutal image of a drowned child. But I care about these children as much as my own. Maybe if Europes leaders did too, they would try to stem this ghastly spectacle.
This article originally appeared on the Human Rights Watch website. Peter Bouckaert is HRWs emergencies director and an expert in humanitarian crises, and is responsible for coordinating the organisations response to major wars and other human rights crises.
Be Part of Quality Journalism
Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.