witness to history

Alan Kurdi’s death changed the global conversation on the refugee crisis – for a short time

Mediterranean refugee crisis, 2014-present: Photographs of the Syrian boy’s body sparked an international outpouring of compassion towards refugees that has not been replicated since, Lizzie Dearden writes

Thursday 26 December 2019 00:42
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A terrible image that shocked the world
A terrible image that shocked the world

Alan Kurdi was not the first child to die during the Mediterranean refugee crisis, nor the last. By the time the three-year-old Syrian boy’s body was found on a Turkish beach on 2 September 2015, more than 6,000 men, women and children had drowned attempting desperate sea crossings to Europe. Thousands more have died since.

If Alan’s body had not been spotted by a Turkish press photographer, his death might have passed the world by, as theirs have. But by capturing that image, showing Alan appearing almost asleep in the shallows, wearing the red T-shirt and shorts his parents had dressed him in for their journey to Greece, Nilüfer Demir changed the international conversation on the “migrant crisis”.

The Independent was the first British news outlet to publish her photograph online, after reporters saw it circulated on Twitter by people calling for European governments to act.

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