Why We Must Look At The Photo Of A Drowned Syrian Toddler

by Maria Guido
Originally Published: 


The past few weeks my Facebook feed has been abuzz with photos of my friends’ gorgeous children: some of them entering pre-school, some on their first day of kindergarten, some even trekking off to college. This week, another photo was added to that rotation: an image of a toddler boy, face-down on the shore of Turkey. What a jarring juxtaposition.

Looking at it, I just wanted to scoop him up like I would one of my own children, and carry him off to his bed for a nap. But the child is not breathing. The 3-year-old is a casualty of the Syrian civil war, and he drowned along with his 5-year-old brother and mother as they tried to flee to safety. His body washed ashore this week.

NPR has the story of the boy and how he ended up on that shore:

“The drowned boy was 3-year-old Alan Kurdi, from Syria, part of a group of 23 trying to reach the Greek island of Kos. They’d set out in two boats on the 13-mile Aegean journey, but the vessels capsized. Alan Kurdi’s 5-year-old brother, Galip, also drowned, as did the boys’ mother, Rehan. Their father, Abdullah, survived. In all, five children from that journey are reported dead.” Abdullah tried to save his family, but with non-functioning life preservers it was impossible. He witnessed his entire family drown.

The civil war in Syria has created a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. Half of Syria’s population has either died or fled the region since 2011. Half. How do we even begin to wrap our brains around that kind of thing? Such a desperate effort to flee a place where you are not safe that you are willing to put your entire family’s life at risk for the mere possibility that you will make it to another country and they will let you in. Bill Frelick, director of the Refugees Program at Human Rights Watch, tells Yahoo Parenting of the photos: “We have no doubt that this young child’s parents were trying to protect him from harm. The heartbreaking tragedy is of an avoidable death of a very young child who died while seeking safety in Europe, but whose path for a safe and orderly way to get there was blocked.” There are thousands of stories like this one. Here’s footage of a father trying to prevent his wife and infant child from being moved from a train to a transit refugee camp. Try for a moment to imagine this desperation:

He’s essentially trying to save the lives of his wife and child. And that mother looks terrified. Terrified.

I put my two and four-year-old to bed at night and there is a deep well of gratitude in my soul that they’ve never known fear or danger like this. And it’s immediately followed by a consuming guilt and horror that anyone has to live this way. These images are incredibly hard to look at, but we have to absorb them. This will be known as one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time – so the only question remaining is — how can we help?

There are four million Syrians fleeing their country because of a violent civil war that has killed over 220,000 people. You can learn more about the struggle in the region here. Mommyish‘s Elizabeth Licatta compiled a very thorough list of resources for donating to help.

From a statement from UNICEF:

“Our hearts go out today to the families who have lost children – off the coasts, on the shores, and along the roadsides of Europe. As the debates on policies proceed, we must never lose sight of the deeply human nature of this crisis.

Nor of the children.”

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