The image of Aylan Kurdi has made ‘everyone become human’

We speak to a social psychology expert about the outpouring of emotion after the image emerged of a three year old Syrian boy lying dead on a beach in Turkey

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The complexion of the Syrian refugee crisis completely changed on Wednesday when the image of a three-year old Syrian boy lying face-down, dead, on a beach in Turkey, was beamed across the world. Within hours, newspaper frontpages, website homepages and television news bulletins had published the image; and in the process, public perception of the crisis would be changed forever.

This one image has made the single biggest impact since the crisis began as a result of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. There have been countless news reports, articles, columns and thousands of pictures along the way; but it is this one image that has caught the attention of the masses. Why?

We asked Dr Janelle Jones, a lecturer in the Social Psychology Department at Queen Mary University of London, why the image has had such a powerful reaction.

Dr Jones believes there has been a “humanisation” of the issue. Despite the desperate scenes of refugees and migrants in makeshift camps; awareness has been limited because these people are still alive.

“Once you see that someone has died in the context of a particular crisis [lying face down, dead, on a beach] what could be happening, or what has happened, is there has been a reframe.”

Dr Jones explains that the British public may have previously perceived Syrian refugees and other migrants as outsiders – completely distinct to their own identities.

“So you’ve got Brits on one side, and Syrians on the other, what’s happened now is that everyone’s become human.

“Once you’ve created that common in-group identity… at that point if we’re all human, then we have to do something to help and respond to these people who are part of our in-group.”

This “humanisation” process has led to wide political action with over 250,000 people signing The Independent’s petition to Prime Minister David Cameron, asking Britain to accept its ‘fair share of refugees seeking safety in Europe’.

Mr Cameron announced on Friday morning that Britain “will act with our head and our heart” and take in “ thousands more” Syrian refugees.