Artists Around the World Illustrate Why That Syrian Toddler’s Death Matters

The drowning of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi inspires outraged cartoonists and designers to turn the spotlight on the refugee crisis.

(Illustration: Rafat Alkhateeb)

Sep 3, 2015· 3 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

It’s a heartbreaking image that has gone viral on social media and shocked people into paying attention to the plight of Syrian refugees. Now artists across the globe are creating illustrations based on the picture of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed up on a beach on the coast of Turkey on Wednesday. Their goal: catalyzing action from world leaders.

Rafat Alkhateeb, an Amman, Jordan–based artist who creates cartoons for Nesan News, used his creative skills to turn the spotlight on the refugee crisis. He created the “New World Map,” a sobering image that shows Aylan’s body floating in a body of water on one side of a wall topped with barbed wire. On the other side: the rest of the world.

Alkhateeb wrote in an email to TakePart that he drew the graphic cartoon to show that everyone must take “full responsibility” for the toddler’s death. “People might be emotionally involved in this case with no reflection on reality, they just keep posting photos and providing the best comments on it, forgetting the child himself,” he wrote.

Other artists calling out the world’s inaction have also been posting their drawings and mixed-media creations on social media platforms. Many of them are being shared with the hashtag #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik, which translates from Turkish as “humanity washes ashore.”

A picture—attributed to Syrian artist Wissam Al Jazairy—of Aylan’s body floating as members of the United Nations look on is making the rounds on Twitter.

An image that seems to have originated on the Court Métrage Facebook page is also being shared. The illustration shows marine life crying while looking at Aylan’s body as a man with a notepad stands over him.

Aylan’s family fled their war-torn home in Kobani, a city in northern Syria. His mother, Rehen Kurdi, and his four-year-old brother, Galip Kurdi, both drowned when the Greece-bound boat they were on sank in the Mediterranean. Only Aylan’s father, Abdullah Kurdi, survived the accident.

“I don’t want anything else from this world,” the devastated father told CNN on Thursday. “Everything I was dreaming of is gone. I want to bury my children and sit beside them until I die.”

The family hoped to end up in Vancouver, British Columbia, where Abdullah’s sister, Fatima Kurdi, lives. On Thursday she posted a picture on her Facebook page of her brother picking up the lifeless body of Aylan off the shore in Turkey, along with a snap of her two nephews in happier times.

“Where is the humanity in the world?” she wrote in the picture’s caption.

(Photo: Facebook)

More than 250,000 people have been killed since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, and another 7.6 million have been forced from their homes, according to the United Nations. The conflict in the region is destroying opportunities for an entire generation of kids. A report from UNICEF released Wednesday found that conflict across North Africa and the Middle East keeps 13 million children from going to school.

According to the report, schools in nations such as Syria are being destroyed deliberately or are being used as shelters to house refugees. Syria once had one of the world’s highest literacy rates, but 40 percent of kids are unable to attend school there, Peter Salama, UNICEF’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, told The New York Times. Children who are not in school are targets for recruitment by military organizations.

“In the past there was child recruitment, but it tended to be older boys in noncombat roles,” Salama said. “That has really changed in the last year or two.” But when families leave Syria for other countries in the region, their options aren’t much better.

More than 700,000 Syrian refugee children in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey are “unable to attend school because the overburdened national education infrastructure cannot cope with the extra student load,” wrote the UNICEF report’s authors.

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That, said Salama, spurs them to head to Europe—or, in the case of the Kurdi family, to seek asylum in Canada. The Canadian government has reportedly offered Abdullah Kurdi citizenship, but he has declined, choosing instead to return to Syria to bury his wife and sons.

As for Alkhateeb, the cartoonist hopes Aylan’s death will be “a shock or a wake up call, so we start to think about practical solutions, ideas, and successful projects which actually could help,” he wrote.

“This child does not care about wars and money,” Alkhateeb added. “The only thing he cared about is to find a warm shelter from this ugly earth, and I guess he will find one, between God`s hands.”