The image of a drowned Syrian toddler washed up on a Turkish beach gained widespread attention on social media Wednesday, along with the hashtag “KiyiyaVuranInsanlik” – “humanity washed ashore.”
The boy was one of five children who drowned heading from Turkey’s Aegean coast to Greece, Reuters reported, a route frequented by refugees fleeing a brutal civil war that has killed or displaced more than half of Syria’s population in just over four years.
Today, Syria is the single biggest source of refugees in the world. More than 3 million refugees have poured into Turkey and Lebanon, where refugee camps are becoming increasingly overcrowded and unlivable.
As the condition of the camps deteriorates, many are seeking safe passage to the European Union via Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia. More than 2,500 people have died trying.
The photo of the Syrian toddler is below. Warning: The image is disturbing.
— Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) September 2, 2015
The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regularly targets neighborhoods where civilians are known to congregate, such as hospitals, schools, and playgrounds.
Even as US officials condemn the regime’s atrocities – which include the use of barrel bombs, chlorine bombs, and chemical weapons – and its strategy of acting as an air force for the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL, and Daesh), the Obama administration does not seem to be concerning itself with Assad’s removal from power.
“The president feels very strongly that the very significant problems that are faced by people in Syria, for example, are not problems that the United States is going to come in and solve for them,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters in May.
In August 2013, Assad crossed Obama’s supposed “red line” regarding the use of chemical weapons after an attack that killed more than 1,400 people in the Ghouta region in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus.
- REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
Obama subsequently announced a decision to launch limited airstrikes inside Syria, but the strikes never happened. The appetite for intervention within Congress and abroad was low, and the US accepted a Russia-backed dealto remove Assad’s chemical weapons in return for backing off airstrikes.
Since then – likely in the name of securing a deal with Syria’s biggest ally in the region, Iran – the administration has toned down its rhetoric, calling for Assad to relinquish power on his own.
Although he has lost control of more than one-third of his country, Assad will remain in poweras long as Tehran continues to come to his aid monetarily. Iran stands to gain $150 billion in sanctions relief from a nuclear deal with the US, and needs Assad in power to use Syria as a bridge to the group Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the refugee crisis continues to escalate. A severe shortage of funding has forced the World Food Programme to cut its refugee-food-assistance program in half, according to Reuters.
“When we first arrived we were getting aid and pre-paid food vouchers, but then the value of that went down and now there’s nothing for many people,” Thiryal Qasim Dibis, a refugee living in Lebanon’s Minia refugee camp, told Reuters.
Refugees seeking asylum in Europe face the added risk of being turned away. After violent clashes broke out between Macedonian police and refugees earlier this month, Macedonia declared a state of emergency and sealed its borders.
- Thomson Reuters
A fence was erected on the Serbian border at the request of Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, who has called the refugees a threat to Europe’s existence.
“If the Obama administration were sincere in putting an end to the suffering of the Syrian people, they could do that in three months,” Mustapha Sejari told Michael Weiss of The Daily Beast.
Human Rights Watch’s Peter Bouckaert, who is currently in Hungary documenting the refugees’ journeys, shared in a dispatch why he decided to retweet the tragic photo.
“Some say the picture is too offensive to share online or print in our newspapers,” he writes. “But what I find offensive is that drowned children are washing up on our shorelines, when more could have been done to prevent their deaths.”