Picture of drowned baby symbolises week of tragedy

The lifeless body of a baby not more than a year old was pulled from the water in a week which reportedly saw 700 refugees drown while attempting to reach Europe

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

The rescuer said the baby looked like a doll.

It is unclear if the baby was a boy or girl. No one knows his or her name yet. But the child was not more than a year old. The rescue worker who pulled the lifeless body out of the water says it looked like a doll with its arms outstretched. Nothing is known about the parents, or even if they are still alive.

This photograph of a drowned refugee baby in the arms of a German rescue worker was distributed on Monday by a humanitarian organisation aiming to persuade European authorities to ensure safe passage for migrants, after hundreds are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean last week.

The baby was pulled from the sea on Friday after a wooden boat capsized. Forty-five bodies arrived in the southern Italian port of Reggio Calabria on Sunday aboard an Italian navy ship, which picked up 135 survivors from the same incident.

German humanitarian organisation Sea-Watch, operating a rescue boat in the sea between Libya and Italy, distributed the picture.

In an email, the rescuer, who gave his name as Martin and did not want his family name published, said he had spotted the baby in the water "like a doll, arms outstretched."

"I took hold of the forearm of the baby and pulled the light body protectively into my arms at once, as if it were still alive ... It held out its arms with tiny fingers into the air, the sun shone into its bright, friendly but motionless eyes."

The rescuer, a father of three and by profession a music therapist, added: "I began to sing to comfort myself and to give some kind of expression to this incomprehensible, heart-rending moment. Just six hours ago this child was alive."

Like the photograph of three-year-old Syrian Aylan Kurdi lying lifeless on a Turkish beach last year, the image helps to highlight the human dimension of the more than 8,000 refugee deaths in the Mediterranean since the start of 2014.

Little is known about the child, who according to Sea-Watch was immediately handed over to the Italian Navy. Rescuers could not confirm whether the partially clothed infant was a boy or a girl and it is not known whether the child's mother or father were among the survivors.

The boat carrying the baby left the shores of Libya near Sabratha late on Thursday before beginning to take on water, according to accounts by survivors collected by children's rights organisation Save the Children on Sunday. Hundreds were on board when it capsized, the survivors said.

Sea-Watch collected about 25 other bodies, including another child, according to testimony from the crew seen by Reuters. The Sea-Watch team said it unanimously decided to publish the photo.

"In the wake of the disastrous events it becomes obvious to the organizations on the ground that the calls by EU politicians to avoid further death at sea sum up to nothing more than lip service," Sea-Watch said.

"If we do not want to see such pictures we have to stop producing them," Sea-Watch said, calling for Europe to allow migrants safe and legal passage as a way of shutting down people smuggling and further tragedies.

At least 700 migrants may have died at sea this past week, which saw the most migrant crossings from Libya towards Italy this year, the UN Refugee agency said on Sunday.

TRTWorld, Reuters