Illustration by Elena Sartorius

Thursday 03 September 2015Heartbraking pictures of Aylan, a refugee toddler, lifeless, washed up on a Turkish beach. He is wearing a red T-shirt and long blue shorts that stop below the knee.  He fled his home, where he wasn’t wanted, sought shelter on an island that didn’t want him, and died on the shores of Europe that perhaps wanted him least of all. This tragic image is shocking. It will remain as one of these pictures of children that changes our consciousness.

At Terre des Hommes, we are outraged like any of us, but we are not re-publishing the picture. Instead, Terre des Hommes is increasing its daily work on the ground with children and families escaping war. In the Middle-East and in Europe, we are up-holding our direct help to children, in particular unaccompanied minors.

In Europe, the project FARO intervenes in reception centers in Sicily to provide psycho-social care to unaccompanied minors who crossed the Sea on boats. At the Italy-France border and Rail Station in Milan, TDH distributed non-food kits for children and families. Direct beneficiaries of TDH ground actions in Italy increased of 40% since beginning 2015. In the Balkans, TDH is preparing to provide first aid to migrants in borders locations, like the Serbia-Hungarian one.

In the Middle-East, TDH has been working with displaced and refugees children since 2006 in Syria, since 2004 in Jordan and since 2003 in Iraq, where we increased by 40% direct beneficiaries in 2015.

Refugee children at Sea: watch again Destination Unknown Campaign Spot LISTEN TO ME…

Aylan’s picture is recalling what the reality is on the ground. Across Europe, citizens are mobilizing! Refugee toddlers are taken care of by front line workers and volunteers who are responding on a daily basis and at local level to the needs of migrant children and families. With their own resources, citizens are mobilizing to help migrants in distress. They are ordinary people like you and me.

Aylan’s picture has become viral in a few hours.  It has become both a media product as well as the symbol of a failure. The failure of “Europe” to save the life, to host, to protect and take care of Aylan and his family. A family escaping war and violence. The picture is again raising the question on how European Heads of States and EU leaders will adopt in three weeks time in New York the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda paving the way to a world where nobody is left behind based on human rights and dignity of all including migrants and refugee children. The Agenda will be adopted having in mind THE picture revealing how much we are failing in preferring building the Europe of free movement of capital instead of the Europe of dignity and human rights.

Aylan’s picture is imposing a well-known tension. On one hand, the need to show realities – as they are. On the other hand, the non-negociable right to dignity for Aylan, his mother and brother and the rest of his surviving family.

Because children are the most precious common heritage of humanity. It is the duty of all of use to take care of them. This is why Terre des Hommes take immediate action on the ground. With dignity.

Terre des Hommes


Terre des Hommes is leading Destination Unknown, an international campaign to protect children on the move

With this global campaign, Terre des Hommes protects children on the move, including unaccompanied and refugee children, through field projects dedicated to the reception, protection, psychosocial and legal support of children.

In the Euro-Mediterranean region, Destination Unknown Campaign is active with direct access to migrant children throughout field operations in Sicily (Terre des Hommes), Malta (KOPIN), Greece (ARSIS), Cyprus (Hope for Children Cyprus), Central and South-East Europe, Lebanon (INSAN), Egypt (Terre des Hommes) and the Middle East.