Images of migrants’ suffering, and of humanitarian rescue, have filled our news feeds for more than a year now. Men, women, children — more than 300,000 on the move so far this year — fleeing war, poverty, political repression, trudging over deserts and back roads, with only the clothes on their backs; packed into stadiums, boats, detention centers; arriving exhausted, or dead, on Mediterranean shores.
They have become such a common sight in the media that we hardly see them.
Then an image comes along that stops us in our tracks: a toddler, lying dead on a beach in Turkey.
He is one of 12 refugees who drowned while trying to reach the Greek island of Kos — a Syrian, according to the governor’s office in Turkey’s Mugla province. The photo has gone viral, often accompanied by a Turkish hashtag that translates, in English, as “flotsam of humanity.” The provocative phrase — flotsam being stuff, in the plural, that washes up after a shipwreck — is meant to denounce a politics of neglect by European governments that insults migrants’ and refugees’ dignity.
Why was this photograph selected to spark action, and why has it struck a chord in a way others have not?
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