May God forgive us for our cruelty.
Daya dharm ka mool hai/ paap mool abhimaan/
The full horror of the human tragedy unfolding on the shores of Europe was brought home on Wednesday as images of the lifeless body of a young boy – one of at least 12 Syrians who drowned attempting to reach the Greek island of Kos – encapsulated the extraordinary risks refugees are taking to reach the west. 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 Turkey’s fashionable resort town of Bodrum.
A second image portrays a grim-faced policeman carrying the tiny body away. Within hours it had gone viral becoming the top trending picture on Twitter under the hashtag #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik (humanity washed ashore). Greek authorities, coping with what has become the biggest migration crisis in living memory, said the boy was among a group of refugees escaping Islamic State in Syria.
Turkish officials, corroborating the reports, said 12 people died after two boats carrying a total of 23 people, capsized after setting off separately from the Akyarlar area of the Bodrum peninsula. Among the dead were five children and a woman. Seven others were rescued and two reached the shore in lifejackets but hopes were fading of saving the two people still missing.
The casualties were among thousands of people, mostly Syrians, fleeing war and the brutal occupation by Islamic fundamentalists in their homeland. Kos, facing Turkey’s Aegean coast, has become a magnet for people determined to reach Europe. An estimated 2,500 refugees, also believed to be from Syria, landed on Lesbos on Wednesday in what local officials described as more than 60 dinghies and other “unseaworthy” vessels.
Some 15,000 refugees are in Lesbos awaiting passage by cruise ship to Athens’ port of Piraeus before continuing their journey northwards to Macedonia and up through Serbia to Hungary and Germany. Wednesday’s dead were part of a grim toll of some 2,500 people who have died this summer attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. Athens’ caretaker government, in power until elections are held on 20 September, announced emergency measures to facilitate the flow after meeting in urgent session under the prime minister, Vassiliki Thanou.
The migration minister, Yiannis Mouzalas, said the measures would aim to improve conditions both for refugees and residents on islands such as Kos and Lesbos. Conditions on islands have become increasingly chaotic with local officials voicing fears over the outbreak of disease amid rising levels of squalor.
“The problem is very big,” said Mouzalas, a doctor who is also a member of the Doctors of the World aid organisation. “If the European Union doesn’t intervene quickly to absorb the populations … if the issue isn’t internationalised on a UN level, every so often we will be discussing how to avoid the crisis,” he told reporters, insisting that the thousands risking their lives to flee conflict were refugees. “There is no migration issue, remove that – it is a refugee issue,” he said.
Syrian refugees: 3.5 million people flee to neighbouring countries