With additional reporting by Kristina Marusic
Your news feed may have been flooded this week with tragic pictures of a 3-year-old Syrian child, one of 12 drowned refugees washed ashore on a Turkish beach. It's a shocking and heartbreaking glimpse into the crisis refugees from the civil war-torn nation are facing.
The reactions have ranged from confused to totally devastated: For many, these photos are way too graphic and horrific to share; for others, they offer a realistic look at the horrors of war -- and its most innocent victims -- that might just encourage the international community to take action.
It's a long and complicated road that lead to these tragic deaths, but here's what you need to know:
Why is everyone leaving Syria?
While the full story of conflict in Syria dates back as far World War I, we'll start a bit closer to home. In 2011, a group of teenagers were arrested for spray-painting a challenge to the president on the wall of a school building. They were held and tortured for weeks and protests started calling for the president to resign and Civil War has been ravaging the country pretty much ever since.
With serious human rights violations on all sides, people are desperate to get out: There's been more than 200,000 deaths since the start of the war, 9 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes and 4 million have left the country.
Where are they trying to go?
According to I Am Syria, a non-profit dedicated to educating the world on the Syrian conflict, refugees are first heading to neighboring countries:
>>Turkey – 1,805,255
>>Lebanon – 1,172,753
>>Jordan – 630,099
>>Iraq – 251,690
>>Egypt – 132,375
Once they reach these countries, they try to make moves to Europe or North America to seek asylum.
Why is it so hard and so dangerous?
There's tons of conflict among European countries about what their responsibilities are and whether anything could've been done to prevent the Civil War and the massive loss of life. There's also a major culture of fear and suspicion when it comes to Muslim refugees. Xenophobic (and Islamaphobic) attitudes are hard enough to squash when there’s not a huge crisis going on, but the desperate nature of this situation means tensions are really high and border-control and asylum policies are made even more strict.
Between overcrowded neighboring nations, strict policies and the absolute desperation to find safety -- refugees have few options. A lot of them take the chance on making the very dangerous trip across the Mediterranean with the help of smugglers -- who profit wildly off their desperation and don't care much about their safety.
How's this all going to end?
No one knows, really. While plenty of countries (including Germany, the U.K., Iran, Russia, France and the U.S.) have tried to offer support to one side or the other to try and end the conflict, there's been little success. The horrors of the last week have already inspired a few countries to take some action and agree to take more refugees.
Abdullah Kurdi, the grieving father of 3-year-old Alan and 5-year-old Galib featured in the now infamous photos, spoke with The New York Times earlier this week about his family's all-too-familiar story.
Kurdi, whose wife also drowned in their failed voyage from Turkey to Greece, told the Times: “What I really want now is for the smuggling to stop, and to find a solution for those people who are paying the blood of their hearts just to leave."