The world has forgotten the fate of refugees, the aunt of Aylan Kurdi, who became an international symbol of the ongoing refugee crisis after photos of him lying face down on a beach in Bodrum emerged in 2015, has said.
“They tried to help [refugees] back then. Borders were opened … But a couple of months later everyone got back to their business,” Aylan’s aunt Tima Kurdi told daily Hürriyet on the second anniversary of the incident.
She noted that “the world cried” when the image of Aylan was published in 2015, but the two years since have passed “tragically.”
“When Aylan was found on the beach, I saw the world crying. I can’t explain how this affected me. There are no words to describe it. Back then, everyone felt a little responsibility and thought about how he might have been their own son,” she also said.
The image of the boy galvanized world attention on the refugee crisis, graphically illustrating the magnitude of the suffering and the treacherous journeys risked by migrants. Aylan’s brother and mother also drowned in the ill-fated journey that started from Syria’s Kobane to Bodrum and then to the Greek island of Kos.
Aylan’s father Abdullah Kurdi, who lost his wife and two children, at first wanted to return to Kobane but he was unable to bear living there.
Saying he moved to Iraq after the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani called him, Kurdi told daily Hürriyet that he has been living in the KRG capital Arbil.
Tima Kurdi, who the family was trying to reunite with before the incident, is currently living in Canada, where she spoke to Hürriyet.
“When I saw the picture, I thought it was a message from God. Thousands of children died before and are still dying. I strongly believe that God wanted us to be together, unite, understand each other, not be selfish and not complain about everything. Aylan’s picture was like the photo of thousands of other children,” she said.
“I knew that my sister was planning to take this journey. So I woke up early that day. I saw dozens of phone calls when I looked at my phone. I understood that something was wrong and then I received the bad news. I fell to the ground and screamed. I wanted to scream ‘Enough!’ to the whole world,” she added.
Asked why Aylan’s family did not stay in Turkey, where they had spent a long time until the attempted crossing to Greece, she said their situation had been “unsustainable.”
“When I visited my family in Istanbul in 2014, I saw a lot of Turkish people with very beautiful hearts. They were helpful and I know that they helped my family. This was not Turkey’s fault. But the situation was unsustainable. They were living in a home without furniture. None of the children were able to go to school because millions of Syrians had arrived in Turkey,” she said.
Kurdi said she has been speaking for the past two years at universities and conferences on the subject, asking people to put themselves in the family’s shoes.
“I listened to the voice in my heart. I said: ‘You should tell these to people and make your voice heard,” she added.
“Some say, ‘This has nothing to do with me, I haven’t done anything.’ But actually everyone is responsible for this. I ask people to imagine themselves one day being forced to migrate from their home, leaving everything behind. I ask them to imagine seeking hope. ‘What would you do?’ I ask them. I say to them: ‘Speak to your politicians and help up make our voice heard,’” Kurdi said.
She noted that racists exist in every country but most people are sympathetic to refugees.
“A majority of people are on the side of refugees. It’s just that they don’t raise their voices. I’ve been saying this for the past two years: World leaders are the only people that can sit around a table and finish wars with peaceful solutions. We haven’t seen the worst yet. I thought that it was the biggest disaster in world history when I looked at that photo two years ago, but we see more horrible disasters as years go by,” Kurdi added.
“If borders were legally opened, would terrorists and crises be in Europe? People panic and say they don’t want refugees, migrants or Muslims. ‘I’m not a politician and I don’t talk about politics,’ they say. But every country went to Syria. It became like a cake. Every hungry country took a bite,” she said.
Kurdi said the solution of the refugee question lies in the ending of wars at the source of the problem, and stressed that no refugee would want to leave their homes if they did not have to.
“End the war. Everyone talks about the refugee crisis and says people are dying, etc. Rather than talking about it, people should address the root cause that makes people migrate. I’m calling on world leaders to give these people their dignity back. Let them return home. It’s been seven years since the war began. If you ask the refugees, majority of them would like to return home. I know it’s not easy and we cannot save the whole world, but we need people to say ‘enough,’” she added.