The searing images, the first of a crumpled body of a tousled-haired three-year old face-down, washed ashore the Turkish coastline; the second of the tall and grim-faced soldier carrying the limp body away, have become the defining images of the human cost of the refugee crisis, the biggest movement of people to Europe since the Second World War.
The images have increased public pressure on reluctant governments in Europe to step up and open their doors to the thousands fleeing war, hunger and economic chaos. In the United Kingdom, where Prime Minister David Cameron has so far refused to budge from his stand of not accepting refugees, a petition urging the government to accept more asylum seekers has gained more that 110,000 signatures, with calls from leading politicians that Parliament discuss the issue when it reopens after the summer break on Monday. A social media campaign #refugeeswelcome has been trending on twitter.
Mr. Cameron is under pressure to change his stance, including from Tory backbenchers, opposition leaders and the Catholic Church. However, expectations that he may shift his position following the publication of the photograph of Aylan, the Syrian boy who died with his brother and mother as they crossed the Mediterranean, have so far not been met. Mr. Cameron had stated recently: “I don’t think there is an answer that can be achieved simply by taking more and more refugees,” insisting that the answer to the refugee crisis was to bring peace to the Middle East. All three Labour party leadership contenders have pressed him to take in more refugees.
Germany and the EU have been pushing for EU country members to accept a plan for sharing asylum seekers, a proposal firmly rejected by Britain and several eastern European countries. The right-wing leader of Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has appealed to those fleeing conflict not to try and cross into Hungary, which has erected a razor-wire fence on its borders with Serbia. Bulgaria has also put up a similar fence on its border with Turkey. Czech president, Miloš Zeman is no less resistant to taking in refugees. A leading Czech member of the European Parliament has accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of “preparing new fascism.” The crisis has divided east and west European countries, and the prime ministers of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are meeting on Friday to put together a common response against what they see as pressure from Germany on the issue of quotas, and on the possibility of the EU slashing their subsidies to these countries if they did not accept more refugees.
Germany is expecting to process 800,000 asylum application this year, a fourfold increase from 2014, and more than the rest of the EU combined. In July alone a record number of 107,500 migrants reached the borders of the EU.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, has called the UK’s position “a disgrace.” “That we are letting people die and seeing dead bodies on the beaches, when together, Europe is such a wealthy place.”