The ‘iconic’ picture of Alan Kurdi portrayed the intense migrant crisis that swept through the Mediterranean region, resulting in the displacement of around 65.3 million people in 2015 out of which 21.3 million were refugees who were forced to leave their country. Interestingly, 51 per cent among them were children below 18 years.
Kurdi was a Syrian child who got drowned along with his brother Galip and mother Rehana while undertaking a precarious journey trying to cross into Europe from Turkey on September 2, 2015.
His drowning and the image of his lifeless body washed up on a beach sparked worldwide outrage, putting the focus on the refugee crisis and crying out for action.
The three-year-old boy was a representative of the thousands of other Alans whose remains lie on the seabed of the Mediterranean, forever unrecorded. He was a symbol, perhaps even a representative of this army of dead children.
He even represented those who were victims of political violence and betrayal.
Just after the incident, European leaders appeared to have been shocked into forming more
compassionate policies, while previously hostile media outlets took a more conciliatory tone.
Two days after Alan’s death, Germany agreed to admit thousands of refugees who had been stranded in Hungary. The move encouraged the leaders of central and eastern Europe to create a humanitarian corridor from northern Greece to southern Bavaria, while Canada promised to resettle 25,000 Syrians.
But did Alan’s shocking photo prompt action by world leaders to end the suffering that has caused millions of people to risk their lives in search of safety? The answer is perhaps no.
The picture helped shape the debate on the migrant crisis and was responsible in part for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s doors to refugees.
In Britain, more than 100,000 people marched on the streets in reaction to the image to call on the government to welcome refugees. It led to David Cameron, the then Prime Minister, promising that the UK would take in 4,000 Syrian refugees a year — a target it has yet to reach.
“One year after the body of Alan Kurdi was washed up on a beach in Turkey, thousands of children continue to die in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas,” said Steve Symonds, of Amnesty International UK in a report.
“The global response to the refugee crisis since Alan’s death has been an utter disaster.” The flow of migrants to Europe has been stemmed under a deal between Turkey and the EU. But amid delays in implementing the deal, thousands still remain penned up.
According to the International Organisation for Migration, since Alan died, more than 4,000 mothers, fathers, sons and daughters have died trying to make a similar journey across the Mediterranean.
It was in the aftermath of Alan’s death that most European leaders finally came up with the idea to share responsibility for at least some of the refugees landing on Greek and Italian shores.
In late September 2015, they created a system that would nominally see 1,20,000 refugees relocated from Greece and Italy to other European countries — a relatively modest number that was nevertheless hailed as a watershed moment for European migration policy.
Peter Sutherland, the UN’s special representative for international migration, said in a report: “The principle is so important and reflects such a change of thinking that in itself this is a very significant development.”
But a year later, these small shifts in policy and discourse have proved to be temporary.
Unfortunately, Europe seems to have gradually abandoned last year’s humanitarian approach with the rise of a perceived connection between migration and terrorism.
For campaigners, last year’s events have nevertheless had one lasting and positive result. In the year since Alan’s death, a wave of grassroots aid groups has been set up to respond to the crisis – founded by the public, and funded by thousands.
Many of these groups are working on the ground in Greece, Calais and the Balkans – and many of their volunteers were first inspired to get involved by the events of last August and September.
A study from the University of Sheffield also noted a change in the language being used about Syrians entering Europe. The vexed debate about whether the word “migrant” or “refugee” should be applied to Syrians seemed to have shifted on social media — with “refugee” surging ahead in common use.
According to another report, Oxfam this week highlighted data that showed the total number of refugees and migrants who have died while trying to reach another country has increased by more than a fifth in the last year — from 4,664 deaths in the year before Alan Kurdi’s death to 5,700 since. The vast majority are deaths on the Mediterranean.
Entering its sixth year, the conflict in Syria, has only deteriorated. A new viral picture, again of a three-year-old Syrian boy, portrayed the dire situation in Aleppo, which has been stricken by bombs. Omran Daqneesh was pictured covered in dust and bleeding after an air strike on his family’s home last month.
He survived with light injuries but his 10-year-old brother died.As leaders prepare to meet in New York for the UN General Assembly, it is absolutely essential that they commit to the principle that no refugee child should be out of school for more than 30 days, given what these children have been through.
What can be more beneficial than education to help a child recover from the psychological trauma of violence?Learning skills can help them integrate into local communities, become productive members of society and not be overshadowed by false promises of extremism.
Speaking a year after the tragedy, Alan’s father Abdullah has appealed for countries to do more to help refugees.He said in a report: “At first the world was anxious to help the refugees but this did not even last a month.
In fact the situation got worse, the war escalated and more people are leaving. I hope that all the leaders of the world can try and do good and stop the wars so that the people can go back to normal life.” He said that not a day goes by when he does not think of his two boys.
Many across the world have experienced or witnessed violence on a scale that most people like us cannot fathom. Each has a family and has had to leave a job and oftentimes a home. And now, what we need to understand is that those displaced are people with great potential and calibre.
It is time to take the cause beyond media coverage and Twitter hashtags which are used thousands of times a day.
It is also time to understand that action requires a consensus among all 28 governments. But each of these countries sees the crisis through national lenses, thus paralysing the collective approach that is, in the end, the only method likely to achieve lasting results.
There are no simple answers to the refugee and migrant emergency. But if Europeans were to abandon terror and intolerance, they might grasp that it is precisely their inability to develop a shared approach that is making the emergency so hard to control.
''One year after the body of Alan Kurdi was washed up on a beach in Turkey, thousands of children continue to die in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. The global response to the refugee crisis since Alan’s death has been an utter disaster'' - Steve Symonds, Amnesty International UK
''The principle (of a system that would nominally see 1,20,000 refugees relocated from Greece and Italy to other European countries) is so important and reflects such a change of thinking that in itself this is a very significant development''- - Peter Sutherland, the UN’s special representative for international migration
''At first the world was anxious to help the refugees but this did not even last a month. In fact the situation got worse, the war escalated and more people are leaving. I hope that all the leaders of the world can try and do good and stop the wars so that the people can go back to normal life''- - Abdullah kurdi, alan’s father