Image of Alan Kurdi's body led to spike in sponsorship of Syrian refugees, group says

It’s been a year since the death of a three-year-old Alan Kurdi shocked the world into action. In the months that followed, interest in sponsoring refugees has increased 10-fold, says the Mennonite Central Committee's Brian Dyck.

'I think it made it real for people, it made it very personal,' MCC chair says

Alan Kurdi, his brother and mother drowned along with two other people when their boat sank during a crossing from Bodrum, Turkey to the Greek island of Kos a year ago. (Tima Kurdi/Facebook)

EDITOR'S NOTE (GRAPHIC WARNING): This story contains graphic photograph of a child's body which readers may find disturbing.

It's been a year since the death of three-year-old Alan Kurdi shocked the world into action.

Wearing a red T-shirt and lying face-down on a Turkish beach, the boy's lifeless body seemed to illustrate the Syrian refugee crisis as thousands risked all to seek better lives. 

"For some reason, that image really had an impact on a lot of people," said Brian Dyck, national migration and resettlement coordinator with the Mennonite Central Committee and chair of the Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holder Association. "I don't know why but I think it made it real for people. It made it very personal." 

It also ignited a greater sense of urgency to help refugees, he said.

Kurdi's aunt, who lives in British Columbia, was trying to bring the family over before the boy, his brother and mother drowned when their boat capsized in the Mediterranean. His father Abdullah was the only survivor.

While interest in sponsoring Syrian refugees had been growing prior to the photo of Kurdi, the number of calls from citizens interested in private sponsorship went up 10-fold after the boy's image made headlines around the world, said Dyck.

"We saw the results of that just immediately. People started contacting us and other sponsorship groups across Canada," he said.
A Turkish police officer carries the lifeless body of Alan Kurdi, one of a dozen Syrian refugees who drowned a year ago off the coastal town of Bodrum, Turkey. (DHA/Associated Press)

Interest in sponsoring refugees comes in waves, he said, and the tide had been low for a long time before the child's death.

"We hadn't really seen a lot of interest in the last 10 years or so. … At the beginning of 2015 the interest was growing. It wasn't significant, it wasn't really big, but after that we began to get calls all the time," said Dyck. He said after Kurdi's story became known, people were galvanized to do something. "They said, 'We can do more.'"

Between November 2015 and August 2016, Canada has accepted 30,275 Syrian refugees, according to the federal government.

Among them, 16,228 were government-assisted, 2,962 were Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) in other words, referred by the United Nations Refugee Agency to private sponsors, and the remainder were privately sponsored by organizations like churches, community groups and individuals.

According to the UN there are 4,808,229 registered Syrian refugees worldwide.

While sponsors who contact MCC remain focused on the Syrian crisis, others have said they want to help lesser known groups in need around the world.

"We've seen a real significant up tick, at least in our organization and others I think, in sponsorship and awareness of other refugee populations," Dyck said.

"It was exciting for us to see people come to us and say, 'We know that there are other situations in the world what else can we do?'"