The haunting image of a drowned toddler shared across the world has galvanized public attention to a crisis that has been building for years. The body of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach, along with others who drowned when a small 8 person rubber boat capsized while making the 30 minute boat ride to the Greek Island of Kos.   Little Aylan died alongside his brother Galip, five, and mother Rehan when their dinghy capsized in the middle of the night. The family was fleeing their war-torn home for sanctuary in Canada. Only their father survived.

Many of the migrants are leaving war-torn countries such as Syria, encouraged by people traffickers to make the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe. The civil war in Syria began in early 2011 after a violent government crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad led to protests across the country.

The pro-Assad regime has since been accused of using napalm, a flammable liquid banned in civilian areas by the UN, during airstrikes that have killed thousands of citizens. Human rights groups also claim regime activists are using barrel bombs – crude weapons made of containers packed with explosives – to target schools, hospitals and markets.

It is believed that a quarter of a million people have so far died in the civil war and half the country have been displaced by the fighting. The situation for Syrians worsened this summer after Islamic State fighters penetrated Kobane.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been fleeing to Europe to escape violence and unrest in the Middle East and North Africa. The number of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean this year has now exceeded 300,000. That includes 200,000 people landing in Greece and 110,000 in Italy. This represents a large increase from last year, when about 219,000 people crossed the Mediterranean during all of 2014.

The trek is a dangerous one and over 2,500 migrants have lost their lives. Sadly, young Aylan Kurdi and his brother are far from the only casualties. In August, the bodies of five children were discovered in Libya by Zuwara coastguard after a boat carrying around 450 people capsized just off the shore. Just days before the Kurdi family attempted their fateful voyage, more than 70 bodies were discovered in the back of a truck abandoned near the Austrian village of Parndorf on the main expressway between Vienna and Budapest.

The image of Aylan Kurdi has personalized the tragedy facing the 11 million Syrians displaced by more than four years of war and forced Western nations to confront the consequence of a collective failure to help migrants fleeing the Middle East and Africa to Europe in search of hope, opportunity and safety.