Alan Kurdi death: Only political action will stop smugglers, says aunt

Turkey's state-run news agency says a court has sentenced two Syrian men to four years and two months each in prison over the death of migrant boy Alan Kurdi and four other people.

Syrian nationals Muwafaka Alabash and Asem Alfrhad convicted of human trafficking

Two men jailed in Alan Kurdi's death

7 years ago
Duration 2:07
Turkish court sentences smugglers to four years for human trafficking

The aunt of Alan Kurdi says she takes little comfort from the prison sentences two Syrian smugglers will serve in Turkey over the deaths of five people including her nephew, who was photographed lying lifeless on a beach.

Tima Kurdi said Friday the problem plaguing Syrian migrants is far greater than two people and that political action at the global level is the only thing that will stop a war in Syria that has displaced millions.

"It's not about how many years they give them, even if they give them 35 years, this is not going to stop the smugglers," she said, speaking in Port Coquitlam, B.C. "To me the only way to stop them is political action. That's the only way we'll stop this operation."

A court in the Aegean resort of Bodrum convicted two men of human trafficking but acquitted them of the charge of causing the drowning deaths through deliberate negligence.

The image of two-year-old Alan's body, face down on a Turkish beach, galvanized international attention to the Syrian refugee crisis and graphically illustrated the magnitude of the migrants' suffering.

Alan's brother, Galip, and mother, Rihan, were also among the five victims who drowned when their boat went down in the ill-fated journey from Bodrum to the Greek island of Kos last year. While Turkish authorities have given the boy's first name as Aylan, his aunt says the family prefers that it be transliterated as Alan.

Canadian connection

Canada has a particular place in the Kurdi story.

Tima Kurdi has said the original rejection of an application to bring the boy's uncle's family to Canada prompted Alan's father Abdullah to try crossing to Greece from Turkey by water.

Alan's uncle Mohammed and his family came to Canada in December after applications for them to come to the country were approved. Tima Kurdi has said Abdullah was no longer interested in coming to Canada.

She said Friday that her family continues to mourn the loss of three relatives.

"The family, the whole family, is gone," Kurdi said. "Our pain is still hurtful, every single day. There is nothing in the world (that) will bring them back."

Alan's death came during last year's federal election, spurring campaign debate on whether Canada, the family's potential place of refuge, was doing enough in the Syrian refugee crisis.

Kurdi said political action is needed to stop the war in Syria.

"Political action to stop the smugglers. And political solutions to stop the war, and (to ensure) people they don't (need to) flee anymore."

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. (Tima Kurdi/Facebook)

Trials in Turkey usually take months — even years — to conclude, but the verdict, which came at the end of the third hearing just a month after the trial opened, appeared to be an effort by the country to show that it is cracking down on human traffickers, just before Monday's summit between Turkey and the European Union to discuss the migrant crisis.

A nation under pressure

Turkey is under pressure to reduce the tide of migrants to Europe and to combat the smuggling rings since it reached a deal with the EU in November. Under the deal, Turkey is scheduled to receive a 3 billion-euro fund to help the country deal with Syrian refugees.

The defendants, Syrian nationals Muwafaka Alabash and Asem Alfrhad, had denied any responsibility in the migrants' deaths. Instead, they blamed Alan's father, Abdullah Kurdi, for the deaths — accusing him of organizing the trip.

The court initially sentenced them to five years in prison each, but then reduced the term to four years and two months due to the defendants' good behaviour during the trial and other legal reductions. The pair can appeal their conviction.

Prosecutors had initially sought the maximum 35 years in prison for each.

The Kurdi family was among hundreds of thousands who risked the journey to Greece in the hope of then heading to wealthier nations in northern and western Europe. After the deaths of his family, Abdullah Kurdi has returned to Syria.

The International Organization for Migration says at least 418 migrants have died this year alone while trying to cross into Greece or Italy.

Turkish officials say authorities in 2015 detained more than 4,400 smugglers who organized the often-dangerous crossings in frail boats.


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