opinion

Children washing up on shorelines: The photograph that didn't change America at all.

On Monday, America had its own Alan Kurdi moment.

The lifeless body of a not quite two-year-old washed up on the bank of the Rio Grande River, her nappy emerging from the waistband of her red shorts.

Valeria died in the arms of her father.

Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez tucked his little girl, her shoes still on her feet, into his t-shirt to ensure he wouldn’t lose her.

Even as they drowned, he never did.

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The bodies washed up on the Rio Grande river bank. Image via AAP.

Ramírez and his wife Tania Vanessa Ávalos had been held in a migrant camp on the Mexican side of the border. There was not enough food. Temperatures exceeded 43 degrees Celsius.

They'd come from El Salvador, a small and densely populated country in Central America, known for its widespread poverty, violence and corruption. The family was exercising their legal right to asylum.

Their hope was cruelly punished.

When Ramírez told his mother they would be heading north to the United States, she says she "had a feeling". One she now describes as "an ugly premonition."

While her son and granddaughter have taken their last breaths, the image of them, face down, on the doorstep of the home they so desperately wanted to enter, has become a symbol of the refugee plight.

We are viscerally reminded that we live in a world where some lives are worth more than others, and where human beings risk their lives to penetrate invisible walls.

We know this, though.

We know because the same thing happened four years ago, when the body of three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi washed up on a beach in Turkey.

He looked almost asleep, and the world watched as his tiny body was laid to rest in a tiny coffin.

"It was something about that picture," Kurdi's aunt, Tima Kurdi, later said. "God put the light on that picture to wake up the world."

And the world did wake up. But only for a minute.

Kurdi and his family were trying to reach Canada.

Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander temporarily suspended his election campaign when it was discovered it was his own ministry who had denied Kurdi's uncle refugee status.

There was a spike in donations, volunteering and campaigning. We became interested. Refugees suddenly didn't look like war criminals. They looked like children.

But Syrian refugees continued to die. We just stopped seeing them.

One year later, after an airstrike on Aleppo, the photograph of five-year-old Syrian boy Omran Daqneesh became the universal symbol of civil war.

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The image of Omran Daqneesh shook the world. (Image via AMC.)

Sitting in the back of an ambulance, Daqneesh was dazed, his drawn face covered in blood and dust.

Daqneesh was what children looked like if they stayed.

Kurdi was what children looked like if they left.

But neither of those photographs, really, changed the world.

It has been only days since the body of Ramírez and his baby daughter were found in the shallows of the Rio Grande River, and President Donald Trump has responded with flyers of Australia's own policy on illegal immigration.

"Much can be learned!" he tweeted.

"You will not make Australia home," reads one flyer. "NO WAY," reads another.

How many children need to wash up on a shoreline before we realise that nothing will deter the desperate? That innocent people are dying because the door is closed, not because it is open?

Little Valeria, tucked into her father's t-shirt, who loved to dance and play with her stuffed animals, was surely one too many.

You can donate to the United Nations Refugee Agency, right here. 
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