Little Alan Kurdi, washed ashore, suddenly refocuses Syrian tragedy: Nahlah Ayed

Little Alan Kurdi, photographed washed up on the Turkish shore, is suddenly refocusing the Syrian tragedy in a single image that has broken millions of hearts. He might have become a Canadian, Nahlah Ayed writes.

Direct relationship between refugees' lack of options and their resort to desperate measures

An undated photo of Alan Kurdi holding his father's hand was sent to Buzzfeed reporter Hussein Kesvani by a family friend. (Bluu Ali/Twitter)

EDITOR'S NOTE (GRAPHIC WARNING): This story contains graphic photographs of a young boy who died, images some viewers may find disturbing. They are at the bottom of the story, after the last paragraph. CBC News has decided to include the photos to allow for the fullest understanding of the event, but we want to give readers the option to not scroll down and to click away from the story if they don't want to see the images.

How many of those who died trying to cross the Mediterranean were ultimately headed for Canada we do not know, but we do know there was at least one family of four.

The Kurdis came from Kobani, the now-forgotten northern Syrian city on the border with Turkey that was virtually emptied of people while Kurdish forces fought over it with Islamic State extremists.

The only survivor of the family is Abdullah, the father. His wife, Rehan, and two sons drowned when the boat they gambled on capsized on its journey to Europe.

Little Alan Kurdi, 3, was photographed washed up on the Turkish shore, suddenly refocusing the Syrian tragedy in a single image that has broken millions of hearts.

He might have become a Canadian.

NDP member of Parliament Fin Donnelly said yesterday he had written to Immigration Minister Chris Alexander on behalf of Abdullah Kurdi's sister Fatima, who was trying to bring her brothers Abdullah and Muhammad and their families to British Columbia.

The Immigration Department issued a statement today, saying Muhammad's application had been rejected, "as it was incomplete as it did not meet regulatory requirements for proof of refugee status recognition." There was no record of an application received for Abdullah Kurdi and his family, it said.

What this tragedy makes clear is the direct relationship between the lack of options refugees have and their willingness to take desperate measures.

Alan Kurdi and his older brother Galib, seen in an undated family photo, drowned with their mother trying to escape Syria. (Tima Kurdi/Canadian Press)

That's evident in the sheer number of Syrians who, faced with the uncertainty and untenable future of life in tents or derelict, borrowed housing in inhospitable neighbouring countries, opt instead for the enormous risks of treacherous smugglers and the seas.

Kurdi's case is a glimpse into the consequences of "no:" the unseen and untold numbers of people who try the few organized, legitimate ways for legitimate refugees to find new homes, only to find out they lack a piece of paper, don't fit the available categories, or  are simply unwanted because of who they are.

Lack of interest

This crisis that we've watched unfold over the past weeks isn't just Europe's. It has been the world's to ignore for years.

Aid workers and the UN complained from the start about the lack of interest from the West, both people and politicians: the difficulty in raising funds from ordinary people and governments alike, to feed and house the millions of Syrian refugees; and the distinct lack of interest on the part of most countries in taking in significant numbers of them.

Should it be any surprise the problem is so uncontainable four years later, that it is now landing on Europe's shores and at the feet of Hungarian, British or even Canadian officials?

One UN official in tiny Lebanon — which currently houses about two million Syrian refugees, among many other nationalities — complained to me in 2012 that they had high expectations of Canada with regard to resettling refugees. Those expectations, she said, were repeatedly dashed.

Many ask whether Canada has done enough to help Syria's refugees, whether it is even obligated to do so.

Why not more?

The government says it is doing what it can — including its funding to the UN refugee agency and its contribution to the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Some claim Syria isn't our problem. Many ask why aren't the rich Arab nations doing more. Another equally valid question is, why aren't the U.K. and the U.S. doing more?

But then we behold little Alan Kurdi on the indifferent shore of a country that despised him because of who he is.

And then we learn he might have one day lived in British Columbia, thanks to the generosity of a group of ordinary Canadians willing to privately sponsor his family.

We don't yet know the entire story, but the effort failed. And in the face of what some have insisted this summer was "migrant fatigue" among Canadians, this is how some of them now react on Twitter:

  • "My Canada is a home for refugees."
  • "We shd all b ashamed."
  • "I'm heartbroken to hear #AylanKurdi's story. This is another child Canada could have saved. #RefugeesWelcome #pray." (Alan Kurdi's name was previously reported as Aylan.)
  • "This is absolutely heartbreaking. Canada MUST do more."

That's just on one twitter feed alone.

At last count, there were more than four million Syrians languishing in neighbouring countries and nearly eight million internally displaced. It is the worst such crisis in 25 years.

Canada has taken in 2,500 from Syria, and some 20,000 from Iraq. The prime minister has promised to take in 10,000 more Middle East refugees in the next four years. The Liberals are promising to take in 25,000.

Draw your own conclusions.

A Turkish police officer stands next to a refugee child's dead body on the shore in Bodrum, southern Turkey, Wednesday. The child is believed to be Alan Kurdi, 3, whose brother and mother also perished. (AFP/Getty Images)
A paramilitary police officer carries the lifeless body of a migrant child after a number of migrants died and a smaller number were reported missing after boats carrying them to the Greek island of Kos capsized near the Turkish resort of Bodrum early Wednesday. (DHA/Associated Press)


Nahlah Ayed

Host of CBC Ideas

Nahlah Ayed is the host of the nightly CBC Radio program Ideas. A veteran of foreign reportage, she's spent nearly a decade covering major world events from London, and another decade covering upheaval across the Middle East. Ayed was previously a parliamentary reporter for The Canadian Press.


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