In what may become this year’s symbol of the migrant and refugee crisis, a photograph of a drowned baby has gone viral on the internet after being found by a German volunteer rescuer in the seas separating Libya and Italy.
A German rescuer with the aid group Sea Watch, who gave his name as Martin, pulled the body out of the water, saying the infant was “like a doll, arms outstretched.”
“I took hold of the forearm of the baby and pulled the light body protectively into my arms at once, as if it were still alive,” Martin, a music therapist by trade and a father of three, said. “It held out its arms with tiny fingers into the air, the sun shone into its bright, friendly but motionless eyes.”
Martin added, “I wanted to scream, but I decided to sing instead, in order to calm myself and the baby which should never have died — and to give some kind of expression to this incomprehensible, heartbreaking moment.”
I wanted to scream, but I decided to sing instead, in order to calm myself and the baby which should never have died.
Sea Watch decided to distribute the photo, hoping it will “persuade European authorities to do more regarding the ever-growing migrant crisis,” Slate reported. The photo of the infant is reminiscent of the infamous image of Aylan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian refugee who washed up onshore as he and his family made their way to Europe last year, and had an immediate impact on the way many people viewed the refugee crisis. The drowned infant was among about 880 migrants and refugees who died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea last week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced on Tuesday. This has been the worst week in migrant and refugee deaths at sea since April 2015, and the death toll will likely trend upward at the onset of summer as smugglers take advantage of calmer, warmer waters. Many people are setting sail from Libya, a route now preferred by smugglers after the European Union took a hardened stance and closed off the Balkan and Turkish routes through the Aegean Sea.
Migrant and refugees died in three separate incidents between last Wednesday and Friday. Rescue teams who arrived on Sunday saw “many dead bodies floating in the sea,” according to The Guardian. Sea Watch arrived after an Italian navy ship began pulling people out of the water during Friday’s incident.
“We found a little kid of a few months. Most of them were young people — we found a couple hugging each other,” Giorgia Linardi, a member of a Sea Watch rescue team, told The Guardian.
Here are some of the photos that illustrate last week’s disasters:
More than 4,000 migrants and refugees were rescued in 22 operations in the Mediterranean Sea on Thursday, according to CNN. In one location, a migrant boat carrying about 100 passengers on board sank off the Libyan coast. By the time rescuers arrived, about 20 bodies were already spotted in the sea. None had a life jacket, the Associated Press reported. In another location, about 550 migrants went missing after an engine-less boat overturned. It had been tugged by a second smuggling vessel.
A migrant boat that started taking in water sank, though it’s unclear how many people were on board at the time. At least 45 people died, according to CNN.
In this year alone, about 2,500 migrants and refugees have died after their boats capsized — a sharp uptick from the 1,855 who died in the same time period last year.
As more people are expected to take on the dangerous journey, aid and humanitarian groups have begun scrambling to help. The search and rescue charity Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) will begin deploying two ships and two drones to cover what is called the “dead zone” a few miles from the Libyan shoreline.
“The summer of 2016 will be a defining year for Europe, Libya and the hundreds of thousands of desperate people who will be forced onto the sea to seek safety,” MOAS founder Christopher Catrambone said in a press release. “Having drones on board the Phoenix will allow MOAS to be on station in the most deadly part of the journey, the stretch of sea a few nautical miles off the coast of Libya that kills thousands of people, many of whom are buried in unmarked graves.”