The death of a three-year old boy named Aylan Kurdi whose family was crossing from Turkey to Greece in a small dinghy resulted in one of those iconic photographs that has sparked horror, outrage — and action.
Around two million refugees have entered Turkey since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011. Although the Turkish government has spent over $6 billion and worked in conjunction with the UNHCR and Red Crescent to house and feed refugees, many Syrians believe their prospects have become more and more bleak and have made the hard decision to undertake the perilous journey to Europe.
Among those was the Kurdi family, who mustered the funds for the short but dangerous trip from Bodrum to the Greek island of Kos. Unfortunately, the voyage ended in the deaths of Aylan, Ghalib and their mother Rehan.
The hashtag #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik (“Humanity Washes Ashore”) quickly became a trending topic in Turkey, spurring a global outcry over the plight of refugee families. A number of high-profile Twitter users began to Tweet about the tragedy, including a German government agency declaring they were no longer enforcing Dublin procedures for Syrian citizens. Although people were mixed as to whether this image of the child should be shared, Human Rights Watch explained why it was necessary to bring the world’s attention to the plight of refugees and the extent of the tragedy.
Human rights activists also offered a very human perspective by sharing their on-the-ground experiences. They pointed to individual stories of human determination and perseverance, like the son who tended to his wheelchair-bound father, as well as expressions of gratitude.
Reporters live-Tweeted the migration of people traveling westward and onward into Europe, as many made their journey by foot. Sometimes these Tweets depicted the desperation of interminable waiting and endless not knowing. Others showed us the best of humanity, as volunteers across borders and nationalities came to the aid of their fellow humans with generosity.
Ultimately it was the voices of such caring individuals that penetrated a public consciousness all too familiar with stories of war and strife. Some, like Pope Francis, called on Europeans to take in refugees; author J.K. Rowling, who called for compassion; and a UK Parliament member who called for social change.
Even more heartening have been some real-world outcomes: the high school teacher who shared the desire of her students to help Syrians; very intense debates around government action; and no one can forget the story of the father selling pens on the streets. Through the power of social media and crowdfunding, he can now support his family and even help others.
As awareness grew, our Twitter Data team reported that #refugeeswelcome was used more than 180,000 times in just two days. There was an outpouring of goodwill and solidarity as organizations such as MOAS could announce receiving an influx of donations.
Of course, efforts to help are not over. While aid groups are being mobilized to get emergency relief to those who need it, and while world media is paying attention, the issues raised by the civil war, poverty and displacement must be addressed for many years to come by governments, by international organizations, and by each of us.
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