Wiser Monkeys - Boy on the beach

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Boy on the beach

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That little Alan Kurdi [also known as Aylan Kurdi or Shenu] died tragically from drowning on 2 September 2015 at the age of three is not in doubt. The sad images of his body lying on a beach at the south-west tip of the Bodrum peninsula, Turkey, and its recovery by a Turkish gendarme swiftly spread round the world, igniting international outrage about the human cost of the migrant crisis engulfing the Middle East and Europe. Knee-jerk reactions to the public sentiment and a great clamour for "something to be done" urged politicians in the EU and UK to make rash promises and profoundly change their policies towards migrants. The death of one toddler became the pivot around which Europe's societies, or even European civilization itself, will turn for better or worse with illegal mass immigration from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia. But did the circumstances of Alan's death truly constitute a defining moment in human history or were they more apocryphal? Was his dramatic death exploited for propaganda purposes? We have taken a fresh look at the conflicting evidence and tried to assemble the known facts as best we can before drawing conclusions.

Family background and motivation

The Kurdi family comprised Abdullah, his wife Rehan, and their two sons Galib (5) and Alan (3) [Aylan was a Turkish version of his name]. According to Mustefa Ebdi, a journalist and friend, the Kurdi family had been forced to move several times during the Syrian conflict and left the country in 2012, after moving from Damascus to Aleppo, then to Kobani. He said the correct family name was Shenu, but that Kurdi had been used in Turkey because of their Kurdish ethnic background. The deputy district governor Ekrem Aylanc confirmed that the Kurdi family had been in Turkey for three years (though some reports say they returned to Kobani for a few months in 2015). The Kurdis lived in Turkey in relative safely and Abdullah had employment as a labourer. He has a sister, Tima, who emigrated to Canada over 20 years ago and she had sent money on several occasions to help make ends meet. A lot of the information learned about the Kurdis, maybe around half, has been gleaned from media interviews with Tima, though she backtracked on a few of her statements.

It appears the Kurdis were initially hoping to join Tima in Canada, and both Abdullah and Tima have blamed the Canadian authorities for rejecting their asylum claim and hence for the drowning tragedy itself. However, a request for refugee status for Abdullah had not been submitted, though a request for Abdullah's brother, Mohammad, was submitted and rejected for being incomplete. The Kurdi family then sought a back door to Europe, with Germany their intended destination, according to Rehan's father, Sexo Seno Kurdi. In addition to going to Europe "for his kids and for [a] better future", Tima also revealed that part of the motivation was that Abdullah wanted dental implants. It seems they wished to emulate Abdullah's brother Mohammed who took a similar route to eventually reach Germany. Knowing of the family's plans, Tima sent C$5000 to the family to pay for their trip (also to include lifejackets and to use a better boat in some reports). A week before, in telephone conversation with Tima, Rehan had prophetically admitted: "I'm so scared of the water; I don't know how to swim if something happen[s]; how about let[ting] Abdullah go [alone] - I don't wanna go."

After the tragedy, Abdullah flew back to Kobani (from which he originally fled) with the bodies of his wife and two sons. With the burial there, Abdullah abandoned any plans of leaving his homeland again. An uncle said: "He only wanted to go to Europe for the sake of his children. Now that they're dead, he wants to stay here in Kobani next to them." Abdullah claimed that Canadian officials had since offered him citizenship but he had declined. Canadian authorities said it was not true that Ottawa had offered him citizenship.

The ill-fated journey

The boat was one of the many dinghies which have left with illegal migrants from the beaches at Akyarlar, the closest point on the Bodrum peninsula to the Greek island of Kos. Tima Kurdi received a text message from her brother Abdullah at "0300 or 0400" Turkish time on 2 September 2015, just as the boat was leaving. What happened after that cannot be clearly stated as several conflicting versions of events have been put forward. We have summarized the main versions below, and where possible have quoted the actual words used. Particularly significant passages have emphasis added thus.

Comments on events

Who found the body and when

Consistency with video and photographs

If we compare the above accounts of witnesses with the video footage and photographs taken by the DHA team, we raise the following points:

Conclusions

Revised 6 December 2015

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