Images of Syrian Child Washed Up on Turkish Beach 'Wake-Up Call' for EU Leaders

Warning: This article contains graphic images documenting scenes of death or injury that some readers may find distressing.

In heartbreaking images widely-shared on social media on Wednesday, a rescue worker looks down at the body of a Syrian child lying face down in the sand on Bodrum beach in Turkey before proceeding to pick the boy up and hold him in his arms. These are the photographs that will serve us the "wake-up call" to the EU's leadership to end its "inaction" and prevent the migrant tragedy on Europe's shores, say experts.

The child, identified as a three-year-old Syrian-Kurd named Aylan Kurdi, is believed to have been in a group of at least 12 Syrian refugees who drowned after their boats sank while attempting to reach the Greek island of Kos from Turkey. 

Newsweek has chosen to publish the image below due to its importance in the debate over the migrant crisis, but viewer discretion is advised.

The 12-mile boat journey from Bodrum to Kos across the Aegean Sea is a short route taken frequently by holidaymakers. However, the dinghy used by the refugees reportedly failed to hold the people on board, forcing them into the water. In total, three children and one woman were confirmed dead. Aylan's mother and his brother, identified as five-year-old Galip, is also believed to have been among the dead.

Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director for Human Rights Watch and an expert in humanitarian crises, says that the impact of these photos may finally push the EU into collective action over the crisis, preventing the deaths of thousands of refugees and migrants making the arduous journey to the EU's Schengen Area.

"We are trying to send a wake-up call to European governments that it is time to stop sitting on their hands and to realise that their inaction and apathy is actually killing people, including many children, and imposing tremendous suffering on many others."

"It's important the European public does get outraged about their government's inaction and they can only do that when they are confronted with the reality of what is happening on the ground."

The U.N.'s refugee agency released a report last Friday that revealed that more than 2,500 people have died this year attempting to reach European shores across the Mediterranean.

There have been a succession of images of the refugees' plight in recent weeks that have gone viral on social media, such as a man and his family in tears after successfully reaching Greece, which have had an impact on the European public and is increasing the pressure on the EU leadership, adds Bouckaert.

"There's an increasing divide between the European public, who are showing a lot of empathy towards the Syrian refugees and European policy makers who are unwilling to come face-to-face with the reality of this crisis and to take the steps necessary to resolve it," he continues.

While much of the rhetoric surrounding the crisis has focused on numbers of migrants entering a country's borders or the housing of migrants, a number of rights groups have focused on the creation of "safe routes" for those undertaking dangerous journeys to reach Europe. Earlier this month, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) called for the EU to create "safe and legal channels" for those at risk of dying at sea.

The European Union's member states continue to be divided over the crisis, with a number of countries opposed to absorbing a large influx of refugees. For example, Hungary is building a fence to prevent the flow of migrants across its border and Slovakia has said that only Christians will be allowed to settle in the country as Muslims would not feel at home due to a lack of mosques.

British government ministers have used controversial language about the crisis, with Prime Minister David Cameron referring to migrants trying to get into the UK as a "swarm" and foreign minister Philip Hammond claiming that refugees were "marauding" around Calais. Meanwhile, in stark contrast with these European nations, Germany last week announced that it would allow Syrian refugees to stay and build a life in the country.