Disturbing images of a drowned Syrian child are forcing politicians globally to rethink their refugee policies

Neither the first, nor the last.
Neither the first, nor the last.
Image: AP/DHA
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This post has been updated with information on the UK’s plans to accept more refugees.

Photos of a three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned off the coast of Turkey have sparked a social media storm in recent days. One image of a Turkish officer carrying the child led the front pages of several major European newspapers, becoming a new symbol of the refugee crisis. But the image may have even further-reaching ripples than public outrage. Politicians around the world now seem to be reflecting on their policies toward refugees.

On Sept. 3, Ireland’s minister for public expenditure and reform Brendan Howlin suggested in an interview with broadcaster RTÉ that his country could take more refugees than its initial quota of 600. He added:

Looking across the pictures in today’s papers I am struck by what the Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy said, it really resonates with anybody linked to their conscious now. We can’t but feel challenged by what we’re witnessing. I think there is a requirement for Ireland to step up to the plate—but it’s not simply a European issue, it is a world issue.

He was likely referring to media statements made by Leahy, who called for introspection, and action on the refugee crisis:

Anyone listening to their conscience now can’t but feel challenged by what we are witnessing these days, weeks and months on our television screens and other social media networks.

In Canada, the tragic images have sparked a storm amid parliamentary election campaigns, Reuters reports.

Thomas Mulcair, leader of the New Democratic opposition party, said one of his MPs had been trying to help the boy’s family reach Canada, but their application hadn’t been approved by authorities overseen by the Conservative immigration government.

Canada plans to accept 11,300 Syrians and 23,000 Iraqi refugees, said immigration minister Chris Alexander today, as well as 10,000 more “persecuted ethnic and religious minorities from the region.”

This has only drawn more criticism. “You don’t get to suddenly discover compassion in the middle of an election campaign, you either have it or you don’t,” commented Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.

In the UK, prime minister David Cameron acquiesced to public pressure and indicated that his country would take in thousands more refugees housed in camps by the Syrian border. According to The Guardian, British officials acknowledged Cameron was spurred to act by the scale of the crisis “as well as the change in the public mood brought to a head by the publication of heartbreaking pictures showing a Syrian boy drowned and washed up on a beach in Turkey.”

Meanwhile, in Iceland, a Facebook group calling for the government to take in more refugees than the initial cap of 50 has prompted authorities to look into the possibility of taking in more people.