Photo of drowned toddler galvanizes world amid European migrant crisis

A Turkish police officers carries the dead body of Aylan Kurdi
(Image credit: Twitter/@IrishTimes)

The European migration crisis got a tragic human face on Wednesday: Aylan Kurdi, a 3-year-old refugee from Kobani, Syria, whose body washed ashore in Turkey along with his 5-year-old brother, Galip. Aylan, Galip, their mother, and nine others died trying to reach the Greek island Kos, an entry into Europe for many Syrians and other refugees seeking asylum. Photos of the dead toddler seized the world's attention:

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The news media and social media were split sharply on whether to show more graphic, heartbreaking photos of Kurdi's lifeless body, but advocates for the migrants and some journalists said seeing Kurdi dead in the sand was a necessary jolt as hundreds of would-be refugees are dying en route to Europe.

"The image is not offensive, it is not gory, it is not tasteless — it is merely heartbreaking, and stark testimony of an unfolding human tragedy that is playing out in Syria, Turkey, and Europe, often unwitnessed," argued Kim Murphy, a news editor at the Los Angeles Times. "We have written stories about hundreds of migrants dead in capsized boats, sweltering trucks, lonely rail lines, but it took a tiny boy on a beach to really bring it home to those readers who may not yet have grasped the magnitude of the migrant crisis."

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In Canada, meanwhile, a legislator says that Kurdi's aunt had submitted a request to bring the family to Canada from Turkey, but that Canadian immigration officials denied the request. European leaders have been unable to agree on how to deal with the huge influx of Africans, Afghans, Syrians, and others fleeing war and other violence.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.