Why it took Aylan Kurdi to make us understand the Migrant Crisis

“A picture is worth a thousand words” is often why it takes a picture or a video to evoke an emotional response. Yet there have been countless images of fear-stricken and grieving refugees squatting on the outskirts of European cities or jumping walls hasn’t elicited any meaningful response.

Until now.

Article- Aylan Kurdi on a beach

The picture of Aylan Kurdi nuzzled face down on a beach and of the Turkish policeman carrying him away has gone viral forcing sharp responses from countries around the world, including North America which had so far been able to avoid much of the blame for the refugee crisis. Villains have been made out of the crisis, and it looks like something is about to happen. So why Aylan Kurdi? Why do we know his name, why are major news outlet broadcasting his family photo album and his family’s tragic narrative?

My theory, it’s because Aylan Kurdi’s picture is a thousand words of story, one that succeeded in resonating with those who could have helped him.


The Perfect Picture

Earlier this year, hundreds of refugees from Libya and other parts of Africa drowned in the Mediterranean. It made the news and the response online was the UN considering military action against smugglers.

Aylan Kurdi could be any kid we see on the street, backpacking bouncing off his back on his first day of school (as many subsequent pictures from his family’s photo album have shown us). His rigor mortis is like a sleeping child and the subsequent photo of the Turkish policeman carrying him away like it was past his bedtime, is a story of innocence destroyed by the cruelty of nature and the apathy of those  that could have helped him.

Just like Anne Frank was the face of those that died during the Holocaust, Aylan Kurdi is the face of refugees fleeing the war in the middle east.

He fits our Narrative

In Marketing, a company narrative should be crafted for the customer, whether to be a part of the success story a company has or as a sort of Gandalf figure for the consumer Frodo to find what they need (company good/service).

The reason why Aylan Kurdi’s tragic end reaches us is it fits into our own narratives. the story is desperate refugees meeting overall indifferent governments and people, unwilling to help them. Aylan Kurdi’s death is our “I’m a monster” heel-face turn our realization that it’s because of our own indifference that we chose to do nothing. In order to prevent more Aylan Kurdi’s from dying it’s up to us to accept more refugees.


I’ve mentioned before it often takes a spark to evoke changes and for the Syrian refugees fleeing into Europe, Aylan Kurdi was it. Hopefully, his death may mean that countries that refugees are fleeing to will take them. When Iceland’s government only permitted 50 refugees, thousands if Icelanders made it known that their homes were open for more refugees. However, the narrative of Aylan Kurdi still ends in ironic tragedy. Countries, including Canada, are offering Aylan Kurdi’s father, the only survivor of his family, visas to live. He rejected them. Because he has nothing to live for there is no point in leaving.