The photo of a 4-year-old Syrian refugee who appeared to be crossing the desert into Jordan alone when he was discovered by United Nations workers was shared by thousands of Twitter users on Monday. But just how "alone" the boy was when he was found is unclear, after some questioned the version of the story as it was presented by the U.N. and others.
The boy, Marwan, had apparently become separated from his mother when he was spotted Sunday by humanitarian workers for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. According to the group, the boy was carrying a small plastic bag. Andrew Harper, a UNHCR representative to Jordan, tweeted a photo of what seemed to be an unusual discovery, which was retweeted by CNN's Hala Gorani.
Acc to UNHCR, little Marwan was found in in Jordan desert w possessions in plastic bag; was later reunited w family. pic.twitter.com/rAUIx82Vxm— Hala Gorani (@HalaGorani) February 17, 2014
“Marwan was safely reunited w his mother soon after being carried across the #Jordan border,” Harper later tweeted.
"We think Marwan may have got lost during the night," Andrej Mahecic, a UNHCR spokesman, told the Daily Mirror. "At the moment we don't know anything more."
But after several news outlets asked U.N. officials for clarification about how the boy became lost, the story behind the photo became less remarkable.
"UNHCR just told me his family was 20 steps ahead of him," the Guardian's Shiv Malik tweeted.
@HalaGorani Erm UNHCR just told me his family was 20 steps ahead of him.— Shiv Malik (@shivmalik1) February 17, 2014
"UNHCR now says little Marwan was only 30ft behind his family," CNN's Jim Sciutto tweeted.
Indeed, Marwan appeared in an earlier photo of a group of refugees.
Gorani, though, defended her characterization of Marwan as being "alone."
@shivmalik1 We spoke to UNHCR and said child was separated in chaos and lost kids an issue, as well as teens crossing alone.— Hala Gorani (@HalaGorani) February 17, 2014
@shivmalik1 Also, the kid is 4 and clearly needs assistance to find family so not sure should be minimized as a small deal.— Hala Gorani (@HalaGorani) February 17, 2014
In terms of refugees, however, one thing is clear: The boy is not alone. According to U.N. officials, more than a million child refugees have fled Syria since the 3-year-old conflict began. Overall, more than 2 million people have left the war-torn nation, with many flooding into Jordan.