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31 May, 2016 17:00

Powerful image of drowned baby highlights divisions in migrant crisis response (PHOTO)

Powerful image of drowned baby highlights divisions in migrant crisis response (PHOTO)

A photo showing a tragic drowned baby in the arms of a German rescuer has gone viral, and reignited the debate over the use of such images in coverage of the migrant crisis.

The baby, whose sex and identity have not been revealed, died after the wooden boat in which they were traveling capsized during the attempted crossing of the Mediterranean. The vessel was carrying 350 migrants when it overturned off the Libyan coast, according to The Local.

German humanitarian organization Sea-Watch released the photo of the deceased one year old along with the statement: "If we do not want to see such pictures we have to stop producing them.”

The organization operates a rescue boat between Libya and Italy and is calling for migrants to be given “safe passage”.

READ MORE: Over 700 migrants feared dead in Mediterranean shipwrecks, UN says

"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 in a statement, according to Reuters. These images "have to be acknowledged by the European society as the tragedies are the consequence of EU foreign policy," it added.

The rescuer, who gave only his first name, Martin, described the baby as "like a doll, arms outstretched". The child’s body was immediately handed over to the Italian navy and it is not known if any of the child's family members are among the survivors.

Sea-Watch collected about 25 other bodies in the operation, including that of another child, according to Reuters. In total, 45 bodies were recovered and 135 people rescued.

The image was released after an especially-deadly week in the Mediterranean, with at least 880 feared drowned in a series of boat accidents, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

This year has proven “particularly deadly” on the Mediterranean passage. “Some 2,510 lives have been lost so far, compared to 1,855 in the same period in 2015 and 57 in the first five months of 2014,” the organization said in a statement.

READ MORE: Terrifying migrant boat disaster captured as orphaned baby steals Italy’s heart (PHOTOS, VIDEO) 

The UNHCR warned that the crossings were likely to increase and, correspondingly, the loss of life is expected to rise dramatically. “This is a global crisis and everybody needs to intervene,” a spokesman said Monday.

Children account for 35 percent of those arriving across the Mediterranean, according to the organization.

Figures from May 18 recorded 93 deaths of children crossing to Europe so far this year, according to a European Commission report based on figures from a number of humanitarian organisations including the UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, UNICEF, and Save the Children.

The power of a photo?

When images emerged of the lifeless body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a beach in Turkey last September they sparked international outcry and political promises to respond comprehensively to the situation, but the treacherous crossing continues to claim lives.

Aylan’s father Abdullah, who lost his two children and wife in the incident, told La Republica he believes their deaths were in vain: "The picture of my son on the beach in Bodrum is a symbol, yet nothing has changed for those who are fleeing from hunger and fear."

"The refugee children continue to drown each day, the war in Syria has not stopped. I see states who build walls and others that [say] we do not want to accept [migrants]. My Aylan died for nothing, little has changed," he added.

READ MORE: 4yr sentences for men convicted over death of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi 

Aylan’s death sparked messages of sorrow and pledges of action from world leaders.

"What has drowned in the Mediterranean is not only the refugees," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said following the child’s death. "Humanity has drowned in the Mediterranean Sea."

Erdogan insisted he would not close the door to other Syrian refugees, however, the country soon stepped up border enforcement and has been criticized by Amnesty International for its large-scale forced return of migrants.

The French Prime Minister Manuel Valls tweeted: "He had a name: Alyan Kurdi. Urgent action required — a Europe-wide mobilization is urgent," while French President Hollande called the incident “a human catastrophe”.

Part of the infamous Calais ‘jungle’ was demolished earlier this year, evicting thousands of refugees.  A new camp has been opened by Medecins Sans Frontieres in Dunkirk without any government funding and against policy.

READ MORE:Brawl of Stalingrad: Fierce battle erupts at migrant camp under Paris metro station (VIDEO) 

British Prime Minister David Cameron said as a father he “felt deeply moved” by the image and announced Britain would take in 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years. Earlier this month he said the UK would accept unaccompanied child refugees from camps in Europe, but admitted it would not happen for at least another seven months.

Almost nine months, on the crisis is escalating further but the reaction to the death of the drowned baby is significantly more muted. While MSM outlets dubbed the tragic photo the new 'symbol of the migrant crisis', the image has sparked a mixed reaction online, with many questioning why there isn’t a greater outpour of emotion and shock.

Others took a more cynical view and dismissed the photo as propaganda designed to ‘trick’ Europeans into accepting more immigrants. Some even criticised the child’s parents for putting them at risk.

As the death toll continues to soar a poignant memorial for those who have lost their lives has been created off the coast of  Turkey in the form of a ‘sea cemetery’.

The marine graveyard created by Support to Life aims to highlight the escalation of the crisis and remember the estimated 4,000 Syrian refugees that lost their lives on their journey across the Mediterranean.