Five months ago, a 3-year-old Syrian boy's corpse on a Turkish beach galvanized public action for refugees. Now, strikingly similar images are generating little more than a collective shrug.
It's partly about timing, circumstance and the exceptional power of last September's photos of Aylan Kurdi. But it's also because sensitivities are growing dull. Boats arrive on Europe's shores daily, or sink on the way like the one that capsized off Turkey's coast on Saturday, killing at least 37 people including babies and other young children.
Images from the latest tragedy, including the bodies of children, failed to generate the same level of shock. Fears that refugees will stage extremist attacks or molest women threaten to displace compassion. And Europe has yet to find the magic solution to its migrant dilemma.
"The public seems to be kind of immunized. They don't want to see it anymore," said Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
The image of Aylan became shorthand for the refugee crisis and government inaction. It triggered soul-searching on a global and personal level, and volunteers from Britain to Greece showed up to feed and shelter new arrivals. On a policy level, its impact was mixed. It prompted an initial groundswell of pressure on leaders to act, but the European Union's 28 states remain divided over how many refugees to take in, and how generously.
Since then, two extremists mixed in with refugees and joined European-born radicals staging deadly attacks in Paris. A string of robberies and sexual assaults in the German city of Cologne are blamed on migrants. European far-right parties have capitalized on the refugee wave.
Images of children victims encapsulated the drama. In one, a boy about Aylan's age is lying on a rocky shore, a pacifier attached to his clothing with a plastic chain, a hat with a pompon on his small head. In another, a Turkish policeman readies an older boy for a body bag. But for many viewers, the moment of awakening had already passed. The new images saw marginal coverage in France, Germany, the Nordic countries and Poland.
Countries in the Balkans, closer to the source of the new arrivals, paid more heed. In Greece, the sinking the fourth in less than a week, and not the deadliest was covered with equal horror and attention as all the other drownings.
Fleming argues that in Aylan's case, "The best thing to honor his death was to have this outpouring of compassion and this outpouring of people taking to the streets and demanding their governments to do more." The boy's aunt agrees. Choking with indignation after seeing the new photos, Tima Kurdi said, "Now, another boy and another boy and another boy are drowned. I just want to hug the mother of that child."
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