Interview. We spoke with the aunt of Alan Kurdi, the boy who drowned in 2015. She is raising her voice after the latest shipwreck in Greece. ‘In the future, people will feel ashamed of those who did nothing to help those victims. Go to your politicians.’

Tima Kurdi: Alan’s death was supposed to be the last

“When I saw the picture of my nephew on that beach, I broke down and screamed. I would have liked the whole world to hear me, to put an end to all that suffering. It should have been the last,” Tima Kurdi tells us over the phone.

It is early morning hours in Vancouver and evening in Italy, on World Refugee Day. Kurdi, a 53-year-old Syrian-Canadian, is the aunt of Alan, the small child found dead on September 2, 2015 on the beach of the Turkish town of Bodrum. The photo of the lifeless little body was shared around the world and set off a wave of outrage. For a short while, it helped soften the anti-migrant policies in the Aegean and along the land border between Greece and Turkey. Tima Kurdi wrote a book about the family’s story: The Boy on the Beach.

A week ago, when she heard about the large shipwreck off Pylos, near the Greek coast, she felt the same pain all over again.

World Refugee Day 2023 comes a week after nearly 700 people died at sea. What did you think when you heard about that?

I woke up and saw the Alarm Phone tweets. Then I read the details about the hundreds of people stranded in the hold of that ship, including many children. I pictured them sinking and dying in silence. I thought of those innocents screaming for help as the water carried them down. It all brought me back to the scene of my own family tragedy, to when my brother had tried to save his children and wife. They were in the water for a long time because there were no rescue ships. I cried hopelessly that day. I wanted to shout to the world: enough is enough. This time, I felt I needed to do something: I contacted the crew of the Iuventa to say I was heartbroken and needed to speak out.

Is the Pylos shipwreck a tragedy or a massacre?

War, poverty and natural disasters result in refugees. Those people have no choice and must leave their countries. I blame everyone who has remained silent over the years. How many innocent souls drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while the world remained silent? Alan’s death shocked everyone, including politicians. In meetings in Brussels, they would come to me, hug me, saying they were sorry and that this tragedy would be the last. But what happened afterwards? How many more people drowned? When they say 25,000 people died in the Mediterranean over 10 years, I don’t believe it: so many others have disappeared without anyone noticing. That’s why I’m raising my voice: you have to help those who arrive at the borders.

On Sunday, in a letter, you criticized the obstacles against NGO ships. The Italian government is among the most active in restricting their activities. How do you feel about this behavior?

It breaks my heart. It’s an inhuman decision. This policy has to change. You can’t let people drown. They are people. Politicians and the international community must sit down at a table and find solutions to invest in the countries from which the migration flows originate and improve their living conditions. They need to stop the wars. Help those who are hungry. Only then will people stay where they are to make their countries better. Instead, they block humanitarian ships. This is wrong. I am 100% on their side.

The governments of Greece and Italy claim it’s the opposite: all the responsibility lies with traffickers, smugglers, or even the migrants themselves who set out on the journey.

There are traffickers all over the world. Desperate people end up in their hands and put themselves in danger because they need to leave. It’s easy for those in power to say, “let’s make a wall” or “let’s block the rescue ships.” But these are not solutions. People are suffering and they will always find a way to escape. I say this to everyone I meet: open your heart, open your doors and welcome those who come. Put yourselves in their shoes. There are millions and millions of refugees in the world. It could also happen to you, you could become one of them.

After the last shipwreck, despite the hundreds of deaths, there wasn’t the same outrage as after the death of your grandson. Did it all come from that photo of his body on the beach?

That photo woke up the world. I personally believe that god shone a light on that picture to send a message: too many people are drowning. But there is no difference between these tragedies. Many others have died like Alan. About this latest shipwreck, we need to know: where are the missing? What are the names of the dead? Who were they, what was their profession, how old were all these people? History will judge us by these facts. In the future, people will feel ashamed of those who did nothing to help those victims. Go to your politicians, speak up in your community, demand everywhere to put an end to this situation.

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