Baby photo shows risk of refugee journeys

‘If you don’t want to see these pictures — stop producing them,’ says aid group.
A German rescuer holds the body of a drowned baby off the Libyan coast. Picture / AP
A German rescuer holds the body of a drowned baby off the Libyan coast. Picture / AP

At first, the baby looked as "if it were still alive".

But when a German rescuer who gave his name as Martin looked closer, he noticed the "bright, friendly but motionless eyes".

The baby was one of at least 25 drowning victims Martin and his colleagues discovered in the sea between Libya and Italy last weekend, he said in an email to Reuters.

According to the German aid group Sea-Watch, the baby had been on a boat with dozens of other Europe-bound migrants that wound up sinking. At least 45 of them died and 135 were rescued, it said. Both Sea-Watch and the Italian Navy participated in the rescue operation, with the bodies turned over to the navy.

The rescuer, a father who usually works as a music therapist in Germany and was working with Sea-Watch, told Reuters of his reaction to recovering the baby's body: "I began to sing to comfort myself and to give some kind of expression to this incomprehensible, heart-rending moment. Just six hours ago this child was alive."

More than 700 migrants died last week in the Mediterranean Sea as their boats sank while trying to reach Europe from Libya, according to aid and refugee agencies. Until last week, about 1500 refugees were believed to have drowned this year, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

Amid the surge in victims, Sea-Watch decided to release the photo yesterday. "If you don't want to see these pictures - stop producing them," the organisation said in a statement sent to the Washington Post.

"The death of refugees is being tolerated to scare off others who might come after them," Sea-Watch founder Harald Hppner said.

Last September, the world reacted with outrage at photos of a drowned refugee boy, 3-year-old Alan Kurdi, whose family had fled from a Kurdish-dominated region in the north of Syria. He was found dead on a beach in Turkey.

But the photo came at a time when thousands of refugees from Syria and other war-torn countries were being welcomed as they arrived in Europe. Over time, the huge crush of newcomers resulted in increasing calls on authorities to place limits on the number of arriving migrants.

The father of Alan Kurdi says his son died for nothing because refugees are still drowning. Abdullah, who also lost his eldest son, Galip, 5 and his wife, Rehan, when their rubber dinghy sank said: "For a while it seemed that the photograph of Alan had succeeded in affecting public opinion ... Schools and campaigns were named after my son and I liked that because I thought it would increase empathy and mean that my family was not forgotten," he told La Repubblica. "In reality, beyond the initial emotional reaction, little has changed." Kurdi now lives in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.

- Washington Post, Telegraph Group Ltd

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