Boats of migrants are the face of the refugee crisis. Instead of capturing the stories of the individuals who suffer the journey to potential safety, we instead see masses of faceless victims seeking asylum.
Using numbers is only one way to tell the story of the refugee crisis. According to the BBC1, over 750,000 migrants arrived in Europe this year alone. Of these, 715,000 have attempted to claim asylum upon arrival. In 2014, only 184,665 people were granted asylum. The number of those who were granted asylum for the current year is still unknown. As of the beginning of November, 3,406 migrants have died en route to Europe. These statistics are only estimates and do not reflect undocumented accounts.
However, refugees are not a set of numbers or statistics: they are individuals who are willing to endure great risks to escape a surely doomed fate in their inhospitable homeland.
Only when the heart-wrenching image of a drowned Syrian boy emerged did the face of refugees come into focus. In early September 2015, 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi drowned in the Mediterranean Sea during the crossing from Turkey to Greece. Anne Barnard and Karam Shoumali of The New York Times2 give an account of the ill-fated journey. A storm on the Mediterranean flipped the small rubber boat that Aylan, his brother, and his parents were on. As Mr. Kurdi tried to keep both boys afloat, he pushed one to his wife, pleading, “Just keep his head above the water!”
Only Mr. Kurdi survived. Upon claiming the bodies of his family, he solemnly uttered, “Now I don’t want anything…. What was precious is gone.”
The photograph of Aylan, a portrait of innocence on the backdrop of tragedy, galvanized mass public support to the plight of refugees. Indeed, Barnard and Shoumali claim that “it is not the sheer size of the catastrophe, but a single tragedy that has clarified the moment.”
Aylan’s heartbreaking story is only one of thousands. It illuminates the sad reality that refugees endure tragedy as they strive to reach opportunity and hope. Every face has a name and every name has a story, and in capturing these stories we can begin to see refugees not as numbers but as fellow humans in need.
Megan Erickson, Staff Writer