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The horror picture show

Photo: Darrin Zammit LupiPhoto: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Darrin Zammit Lupi’s haunting photograph showing a blonde child staring through a police bus window upon his arrival in Malta a year ago was picked up by all the major news providers around the world.

Let’s be honest. News houses demanded that specific picture because it showed a white blondish child with piercing blue eyes going through the channels normally associated with black sub-Saharan Africans.

Ironically, a drawing made by that same boy, now 10 years old, and reproduced by The Sunday Times of Malta, possibly depicted the horror at sea better than the most seasoned photographer could convey.

Hamad Alroosan's illustration shows a green helicopter hovering over the sea and, below, some stick men and women are seen raising their arms for help. Five figures are drawn floating in the water. Their boat, riddled with bullets, is seen sinking into its watery grave.

The Syrian boy had drawn what he remembers of the migrants’ tragedy, which killed more than 50 people in October 11, 2013. The drawing is a silent scream of horror.

To hear and read the testimony of victims of tragedies at sea is always powerful; it is even more horrifying to see the drama through the eyes of uncoached, innocent children.

We have sadly become too used to the sorry sight of black people with children in tow fleeing some godforsaken African country. Their frequent arrivals have sometimes made us lose sight of the bigger picture.

But Hamad’s story shows a seismic shift in refugee patterns.

We now live in a world where (white) Syrians and Iraqis are fleeing untold horrors and seeking the same means of escape that black people have adopted along the years. Just think about it – according to the UNHCR, half of all Syrians have now been forced to abandon their homes and flee for their lives.

It is heartbreaking to hear Hamad recount how he heard children and women screaming as his boat went down and how he had blood streaming down his face.

Hard as it is to believe, Hamad is one of the lucky ones – at one point he tells our reporter “all my friends are dead”.

When a 10-year-old is drawing corpses floating in the sea, you realise the millions of misplaced childhoods brought about by war and strife. The sooner world leaders understand the need to help border countries weighed down by this human tsunami, the sooner we try to start discussing systems to cushion the lives of the real victims, the better.

They say pictures speak louder than words. But sometimes, just sometimes, a drawing, no matter how illustrated, can scream louder than a photo.

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