Paris - A cartoon in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has caused online shock by suggesting drowned toddler Alan Kurdi would have grown up to be a sexual abuser like those immigrants allegedly involved in the assaults in Cologne, the Guardian has reported.

An insert at the top the cartoon contains the famous image of the three-year-old Syrian boy laying face down dead in the sand. The question at the top of the drawing “What would little Aylan have grown up to be?” is answered at the bottom. Now the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo has attempted to marry the two moments, with an image that suggests that if Alan had survived his journey to Europe, he would have become a “groper in Germany.”

The image was drawn by Laurent Sourisseau, also known as “Riss,” a longtime contributor to the newspaper and its current publishing director. Sourisseau was present when Islamist extremists attacked the publication’s offices in January. That attack left 12 people dead; Sourisseau was shot in the shoulder.

The implication that all refugees grow up to be gropers has outraged many, but some people have defended the cartoon and interpreted it as a satire on tabloid perceptions of refugees. Kurdi’s death on a beach in Turkey last year galvanised public opinion, and the widespread sympathy for the humanitarian crisis put pressure on European governments.

But public opinion has turned in places after hundreds of claims of assaults by immigrants on women on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany. Police and the media have been accused of deliberately under-reporting the events in order not to encourage anti-immigrant sentiment. The cartoon was published a week after the anniversary of the attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo , when free speech organisations came together to proclaim the importance of protecting dissenting voices.

Tweets by a number of writers with a photograph of the Charlie Hedbo cartoon provoked intense debate about whether the cartoon is overtly racist or is an attempt to satirise media coverage of refugees in Europe. Sunny Hundal called it “disgusting”.

Financial Times journalist Christopher Thompson suggested it may be a satire on “sweeping stereotypes about migrants” and not racist at all. But Libyan American Hend Amry took offence and interpreted the cartoon as Charlie Hebdo saying “this drowned baby Syrian refugee would have grown up to sexually harass German women”.