In early September in 2015, a photo of a young boy lying lifeless on a beach in the Mediterranean captured the world’s attention. The picture showed two-year-old Alan Kurdi lying face down in the sand.
Kurdi and his family were attempting to cross the Mediterranean by boat after fleeing war-torn Syria, but on the journey Alan, his brother Ghalib and mother Rehana perished; Abdullah Kurdi, the family’s father and husband, was the only one to survive.
Tima Kurdi, Abdullah’s sister and Alan’s aunt, spoke about the night the family boarded the boat in Bodrum, Turkey.
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“Abdullah sent me the text message and he said, ‘Pray to us and tell all my family this is it. We’re leaving tonight,’” Tima said.
“Somehow I fell asleep that night for a few hours. I woke up between 4 a.m. or 5 a.m., and (I had this) feeling, it’s like a butterfly inside my heart. It was like I can hear my heartbeat.”
Tima said she went to grab her phone and noticed she had dozens of missed calls; she called her sister-in-law who was living in Turkey.
“She said Rehana, Alan and Ghalib have drowned. That’s when I dropped my phone and I started screaming as loud as I could. I fell to the floor and I want the world to hear me,” she said.
The journey the Kurdi family took was one thousands of Syrians attempted at the height of the civil war.
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“Syria was experiencing … an intense conflict which was disproportionately impacting civilians and resulted in casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure, including homes, schools, hospitals, clinics. We saw intense levels of violence and we saw masses of people fleeing for their lives,” said Rema Jamous, the Canadian representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“The direct impact of the war was essentially felt most closely by civilians who were subject to all sorts of bombardment, siege and did not have, as a result, access to the basic necessities of life.
“They were dealing directly with the impact of war, first and foremost in terms of the threat to their lives and their day-to-day existence. But then that had consequences and knock-on effects on their ability to access basic things like safe shelter, water, food, education, health care, any kind of day-to-day necessity of life was directly impacted.”
On this episode of Whatever Happened To…?, Erica Vella speaks with Tima about the Kurdi family’s devastating journey and finds out how the photo of Alan mobilized Canada to take action and help thousands of Syrians fleeing persecution.
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