Drowned Syrian Boy Awakens Peruvians to Their Own Dying Children

Child from the Uro community in Puno, Lake Titicaca, Peru.  Photo by Jay Joslin on Flickr. CC 2.0.

Post originally published on Globalizado by Juan Arellano.

The image of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian child who drowned on a Turkish beach, resonated around the world, including in Peru where the photo was shared throughout social media. It was this supposed “overexposure” that led a satirical Peruvian website to publish an article mocking people who are moved by the tragedies experienced by people in other countries. Reactions online to this ridicule varied, with many criticizing the satirists for failing to grasp the magnitude of suffering at the heart of Europe's refugee crisis and other tragedies around the world.

They publish photos of kids freezing to death but nobody cares because they are from Puno

los niños de Huancavelica, Puno y la Amazonía […] Se tomaron fotos en sus peores condiciones y las mandaron a los diferentes medios de comunicación, destacados bloggers y demás idiotas con internet. Sin embargo, nadie los publicó ni en su muro de Facebook por lo que no llegaron ni a un Like, y no conforme con ello hasta los calificaron como resentidos sociales.

“Nos dijeron que somos socialistas, antidesarrollos y antidemocráticos y que de seguro nuestros padres eran terrucos. Además agregaron que nuestro reclamo detenía las inversiones y que no debíamos hacer eso porque los empresarios se pueden molestar”, señaló uno de los niños mientras moría de frío en Mazocruz, Puno.

Children in Huancavelica, Puno and the Amazon […] Photos were taken in the worst conditions and sent to different media, prominent bloggers, and other idiots on the Internet. But nobody published them, not even on their Facebook walls, so they didn't even get a Like, and not satisfied with that they were accused of having a chip on their shoulder. “They said we are socialist, anti-development, and anti-democratic, and that our parents are a bunch of terrorists. What's more, they said our appeal for help would deter investment and that we shouldn't complain because it might upset business executives,” according to one of the children freezing to death in Mazocruz, Puno.

One tragic side of the satire is that a severe cold front has engulfed the Andes and parts of the Peruvian Amazon, with temperatures reaching as low as 20 degrees below zero Celsius. By the first week of August, the frigid air had already claimed 129 lives (mostly children and the elderly).

Journalist Raúl Castro commented in an opinion piece that this kind of news makes its way to the Peruvian capital every year at this time, and it is greeted with the same degree of indifference: “for residents of Lima […], the problem seems as distant as the murder of their fellow Quechua and Asháninka citizens during the wave of terrorism [in the early 1980s]. If they are Quechua or Aymara, they don't elicit a sense of shared nationality. If they are from Lamas or are Huitotos and the extreme cold descends on remote parts of the Amazon, then that is another Peru—not mine.”

Many tweets expressed the opinion that the situation demonstrates general insensitivity and even a moral double standard.

Just as a reminder: 200 kids die every year because of the cold in Puno. You don't have to go to Syria to show your support.

Alan Kurdi may be a trending topic in Peru. I ask myself if one day the hundreds of children who die of cold in Puno will be a trending topic in Peru.

Accept Syrians refugees in Peru? Seriously? With so many kids freezing to death, working and who have nothing to eat?

Isabel Guerra, a journalist and Global Voices contributor, reflects on the issue, but from a different perspective:

Ahora que veo a tantísimo europeo dispuesto a abrirle su casa a los desplazados sirios, no puedo evitar preguntarme por qué razón no hicieron lo mismo con los peruanos que en los 80s y 90s huían despavoridos del país en busca de un lugar donde no los matara o Sendero Luminoso, o MRTA, o el Grupo COLINA, o la hiperinflación, o el hambre por desempleo. A nosotros, que fuimos colonia de país europeo y que compartimos cultura con los españoles, los europeos nos plantaron la visa Schengen para impedirnos la entrada, y nos decìan que íbamos a vivir a costillas de su Estado del Bienestar y a quitarles el trabajo :S Nos llamaron SUDACAS…

Now that I see so many Europeans eager to open their homes up to displaced Syrians, I cannot help but wonder why they didn't do the same for Peruvians in the 80s and 90s, who were fleeing the country in terror in search of a place where they wouldn't be killed by the Shining Path or the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement or the Grupo Colina, or the hyperinflation, or unemployment and hunger. We, who were a colony of a European country and share a culture with the Spanish, got stuck us with Europe's Schengen visa to prevent us from entering, and they told us we were going to live off their welfare state and steal their jobs. And they pejoratively refer to us as SUDACAS…

Isabel also created a meme juxtaposing the original photo of Alan with the plight of indigenous people in Peru, arguing that indifference in either case is deadly.

Alan did not deserve to drown. Our children don't deserve to freeze to death. The need is great. Look around.

It is not that nothing is being done to help the children in Puno and other victims of the cold; it is simply that much more could be done. Unfortunately, communities in the high Andes are weathering an emergency with little government support, despite the good intentions of many civil servants.

Health Minister Velasquez announced the arrival of more medical specialists to help tackle the cold.

Our brothers in Puno need our help. We can fight the cold by donating warm clothing and blankets.

A relief effort has gained traction, and activists are mounting small but inspiring campaigns, such as one by a group of students at Colegio Ricardo Bentín in Lima who, with the help of their teacher, contributed scarves they had knitted themselves to communities in the Ayacucho region. Universidad ESAN is also heading another well-funded campaign to target the situation in Puno. Still others, such as @JuntosPorElPeru, are operating at an international level:

Blanket and clothing drive at Av Arequipa 3570 and beside City Hall.

There is, of course, more to be done. While some still have not rallied to the cause and others continue to ignore the situation, children in the Andes are freezing to death.

15 children die in Peruvian cold snap. Extreme temperatures in the southern region of the country caused severe respiratory infections and pneumonia.

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