Fidest – Agenzia giornalistica/press agency

Quotidiano di informazione – Anno 31 n° 321

The shocking image from the border, and the lessons from Aylan Kurdi

Posted by fidest press agency su giovedì, 27 giugno 2019

By Jon Allsop. Last week, the Associated Press detailed the inhumane conditions imposed on hundreds of migrant children at a US border facility in Clint, Texas, near El Paso. Other stories followed the AP’s coverage; the children, we were told, had gone weeks without a bath or clean clothes, slept on the floor, and taken care of each other after the Trump administration separated them from their parents. These details were shocking. But they were secondhand. As The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi noted yesterday, the government, as is common, blocked reporters from the facility; instead, lawyers who visited in order to monitor conditions fed their observations back to the press, which they don’t normally do.
In recent days, similar testimonies have swelled in our media. Sometimes, however, it takes an image for a horrible truth to land with full impact. Yesterday, the AP shared a monstrous photo of a different—yet clearly related—tragedy at the opposite end of Texas’s border with Mexico. On Sunday, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, a migrant from El Salvador, and his daughter Valeria, not yet two years old, were swept away as they attempted to cross the Rio Grande. On Monday, Julia Le Duc, a journalist with La Jornada, a Mexican newspaper, photographed their bodies as they lay washed up on a river bank across from Brownsville; Valeria was bound to her father by his black shirt, her arm crooked around his neck. The image unleashed an immediate outpouring of emotion. On CNN, Don Lemon choked up as he talked about it. “That is what the immigration crisis looks like,” he said.Commentators and major news outlets compared the image to the photo, taken in 2015, of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian refugee whose body washed ashore in Turkey after he drowned trying to reach Europe. Politicians did likewise: “It’s our version of the Syrian photograph—of the three-year-old boy on the beach, dead. That’s what it is,” Joaquin Castro, a Democratic congressman from Texas, said. CNN, The Guardian, and others noted that the Kurdi image had a profound, galvanizing impact on the tenor of the migration debate in Europe. “It remains to be seen” whether the image from the Rio Grande “may have the same impact in focusing international attention on migration to the US,” the AP wrote.
There’s no question the Kurdi image resonated. It spread like wildfire on social media; by one estimate, 20 million people saw it in just 12 hours. Donations to refugees soared as politicians in multiple countries promised to work harder to resettle them. But did it actually change anything? One year on from Kurdi’s death, his aunt told the BBC that, in her view, following the initial shock, “everybody went back to business”; the same day, Patrick Kingsley—then The Guardian’s migration correspondent, now at The New York Times—wrote that “Small shifts in policy and discourse have proved to be temporary.” Donations and online interest dropped off. As migrants continued to come to Europe, politicians closed their borders, and the anti-immigrant rhetoric that felt suspended post-Kurdi returned. Three years on, the BBC found migrant children living in horrifying conditions in camps in Greece; some as young as 10 had tried to kill themselves. “A photograph, no matter how emotionally wrenching, can only do so much,” Paul Slovic, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon, wrote for Quartz in 2016. “The fact is that there will be no sudden emotional tipping point triggering aggressive humanitarian intervention. Empathy is important, but not sufficient.”
Of course, the situations in Central America and at the US border are different from what has happened in Syria and in Europe. But Slovic’s words ring loudly this morning, as do many of the details of Kurdi’s story and the inaction that came next. Children crammed into camps, children separated from their parents, and children washing up dead are all grim common threads. We cannot allow collective inaction to become another. Our job now is to apply pressure to those who have the power to take action, and to keep that pressure up for as long as it takes. (font: CJR Editors)


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