The tragic image of a drowned toddler whose body washed up on a beach in one of Turkey’s most popular resorts went viral Wednesday, underscoring the increasingly desperate plight of migrants trying to flee Africa and the Middle East in hopes of a better life in Europe.
The boy, presumed to be from Syria, was found dead Wednesday near the town of Bodrum. A Turkish police officer is shown in the image carrying the boy's body away from the waves.
At least 12 migrants, including the boy and four other children, drowned off the Turkish coast when two boats carrying them to the Greek island of Kos capsized, Turkish officials told The Associated Press.
Television images also showed the boy – wearing a bright red T-shirt and shorts -- lying face down in the surf, Reuters reported.
Turkish media identified the boy as 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi and reported that his 5-year-old brother died on the same boat. The boys were from the Syrian town of Kobani, the scene of heavy clashes between Islamic State militants and Kurdish regional forces months ago, Reuters reported, citing local media.
Reposting of the image put the Twitter hashtag of "KiyiyaVuranInsanlik" -- meaning "humanity washed ashore” -- among the site’s top trending topics.
The scene at the beach left witnesses in tears. One migrant rescued from the sea later died in the hospital, the Izmir province governor's office said.
The route between Bodrum and Kos, just a few miles, is one of the shortest from Turkey to the Greek islands but remains dangerous. Hundreds of migrants a day attempt the perilous sea crossing despite the risks.
In the first incident, a small boat overloaded with 17 people sank in international waters after leaving Bodrum, according to Turkey's private Dogan news agency. Eight of the migrants including two children drowned, seven were rescued by the coast guard and two others were reported missing.
Hours later, a rubber boat carrying six Syrians from the town of Kobani sank shortly after leaving Bodrum, Dogan said. Four migrants — a woman and three children — drowned in that incident, it said. Employees of an aquatics sports center discovered their bodies washed up on shore and notified authorities.
A senior Turkish naval official told Reuters that almost 100 people in all had been rescued by Turkish vessels overnight as they tried to reach Kos – the gateway to the European Union.
Aid groups estimate that in August alone, around 2,000 people a day have been crossing into Greece’s eastern islands on rubber boats.
The U.N. Human Refugee agency says more than 2,500 people have died this year trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.