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4-year-old Syrian refugee: Viral photo debunked, Syrian child was not 'alone'

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A 4-year-old Syrian refugee crossing the desert from Syria into Jordan is a good story. In fact, it’s so compelling, that news outlets quickly trumped it up into more than what was actually there.

Yahoo! News on Monday shared the story and the now-famous picture of "a 4-year-old Syrian refugee who was reportedly discovered alone in the middle of the desert." The story says the boy was rescued and thereafter reunited with his family across the border in Jordan.

Yahoo! wasn’t the only media outlet to quickly pick up the gripping story of loss and reunion. The story started with a Twitter pic shared in a tweet from CNN anchor Hala Gorani.

UN staff found 4 year-old Marwan crossing desert alone after being separated from family fleeing #Syria. – @HalaGorani 17 Feb. 2014 9:54 AM

The image of “Marwan,” clutching his plastic bag with nothing but the waste of the desert behind him, quickly went viral.

However, the Washington Post pointed out today that Andrew Harper, the U.N. relief agency's representative in Jordan who had initially posted the picture, later clarified that Marwan was only “temporarily separated" from his family, who was among a large group of refugees a few dozen meters ahead.

Thanks to Jared 4 this shot showing Marwan at the back of this group of @refugees. He is separated - he is not alone. – @And_Harper Andrew Harper 18 Feb. 2014 1:06 AM

The Post concludes the report by highlighting that the error in reporting certainly doesn’t diminish the heartbreaking stories of millions of individuals fleeing their country every year.

“The fact that the boy was never alone doesn't make Marwan's story, or the stories of the more than 1 million other children who have been forced to flee their home country, any less heartbreaking. Hundreds of children are forced to make the perilous journey out of Syria without a parent or an accompanying adult, with more than 1,000 in Jordan alone, according to Unicef. The lack of a timely viral photograph does not change that.”

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