The tiny Syrian boy with his shoes still attached to his feet and wearing shorts and a t-shirt is also captured being plucked from the sand and carried off the beach by Turkish authorities.
Some have criticized the Independent newspaper's decision to publish the images on grounds they are too graphic. But Peter Bouckaert, emergency director of Human Rights Watch who shared the picture of the refugee who was one of 12 Syrians to drown crossing the Mediterranean from Turkey to Greece, defended the Independent's decision to circulate the pictures.
"What is offensive is dead kids washing up on our beaches when deaths could have been prevented by EU action, not the picture themselves," Bouckaert tweeted.
An editor's note written in the Independent said:
"…Because, among the often glib words about the ongoing migrant crisis', it is all too easy to forget the reality of the desperate situation facing many refugees."
The child has a name and he's three years old. Aylan Kurdi represents the desperate plight of refugees fleeing war-torn countries, risking death on the way.
The pictures have been sent to Downing Street, but Number 10 has so far refused to tell the Independent whether the PM had actually seen the pictures of Aylan Kurdi.
A spokesman, however, said:
"These photos are clearly shocking. This is why we continue to be at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria — including as the second biggest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid, having already pledged £900m."
David Cameron has referred to migrants fleeing to Europe in the past as a "swarm" and recently said that Britain is doing enough to help refugees. Meanwhile, headlines such as "humanity washed ashore" have appeared above the image.
The European response to the refugee crisis continues to cause rifts among EU member states and threatens to jeopardize Britain's plans to reform its relationship with Brussels if the UK continues refusing resettlement for more migrants.
Labour leader candidate Andy Burnham has called for an urgent parliamentary debate on the issue, France is to hold an emergency crisis meeting with "all ministers concerned" this afternoon. Meanwhile Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban has called the refugee crisis "a German problem" and said that he will not allow migrants to leave the country without registering.
AB: "Let’s work through UNHCR to take people directly from camps bordering Syria so people don’t risk lives crossing the Mediterranean"— Andy for Leader (@Andy4Leader) September 3, 2015
Orban's controversial comments come after a two-day stand off with people stranded at Budapest's international railway station hoping to board trains bound for Austria and Germany. The Hungarian authorities have since reopened the station but the rhetoric from the Prime Minister who is in Brussels for talks with other EU leaders about the crisis says border control was "the number one issue".
The number one issue for European Council president Donald Tusk, however, is the allocation of refugees and asylum seekers between EU members. Tusk is calling for countries to accept 100,000 people between them.
The picture of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi might say more than a thousand words — but the debate between EU leaders continues — and a solution still to be found.