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Five years after his photo shocked the world, three human traffickers are sentenced to 125 years each over the death of Alan Kurdi

The 15th March marked the beginning of the 10th year of the Syrian war. The conflict has caused so many deaths on all sides but none more remembered than that of Alan Kurdi- the boy on the beach – who’s death came to symbolise the plight of all the Syrian refugees and the cost of human suffering.

The picture of the two-year-old boy’s drowned body washed up on the beach became a symbol of the global refugee crisis, which during its height in 2015 saw one million migrants attempt the crossing and led to the deaths of 3,711. While the year on year figure has decreased since 2015, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has reported that one person still dies at sea for every 14 who arrive in Europe.

Abdullah Kurdi took the chance to make the short but perilous sea crossing from Turkey to Greece with his wife, Rehanna and their two sons five year old Ghalib and two year old Alan on the 2nd September 2015.The Kurdis could not survive in Turkey and sought to reach their family in Europe or Canada but the drastically over loaded 15-foot rubber raft carrying them on their first leg of the journey capsized, drowning all but Abdullah from his family.

This week, according to the Turkish state news agency Andalou, a Turkish court sentenced the 3 people directly responsible for Alan Kurdi’s death to 125 years each in prison for human trafficking. The men were captured by Turkish security forces in the southern province of Adana, having previously been on the run after fleeing during their trial. They were then sentenced on Friday 13 March at the Bodrum High Criminal Court in Mugala for the crime of “killing with eventual intent”. Other Turkish and Syrian defendants have also received prison sentences following the toddler’s death in September 2015.

Speaking to IOHR from her home in Coquitlam, B.C. Abdullah’s sister Ms. Tima.Kurdi said that with the sentence for the traffickers Abdullah was just reliving the tragedy again and again.

“Bringing these people to justice brings some closure for our family, but sentencing 3 men is not going to change the situation for all of those refugees who have already suffered and those that continue to do so.”

Tima Kurdi said:

“It’s not about blame it’s about stopping vulnerable people being preyed upon once and for all. We need the world to seek peace so that no Syrian needs to go through what my brother and his family have suffered.”

Ms Kurdi reflected that:

“I feel responsible, too, because I paid those smugglers the money for my family. But you know what – when you see your own family struggling and suffering, you’d do the same thing, we all reach to our loved ones and we try to help them.”

Ms. Kurdi also said that while her family now has some kind of justice, she does not feel that the sentences will dissuade smugglers who make their living by transporting refugees across treacherous waters.

“There are hundreds of families who lost their lives in that sea and it continues. This network, they need to stop…I said it before and five years later I still say it. One or two people will not solve the refugee crisis. We need to end the war to end this.” she said.

The sentencing follows last month’s news that Turkey has once again opened its doors for migrants trying to cross into Europe, sending thousands of refugees to the Greek border, and prompting fears that more migrants will be incentivised to seek similar smuggling rings help in crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

Sadly, the Syrian conflict has shown little signs of abating, tering its tenth year on March 15, 2020. To date, half the population have fled their homes and according to UNHCR, 5.6 million Syrians are refugees, and another 6.2 million people are displaced within Syria (with nearly a million newly displaced in Idlib).

UNICEF announced in a statement marking the anniversary that around 4.8 million children have been born in Syria since the conflict began nine years ago, with an additional million born as refugees in neighbouring countries. For these children, war is all they have known.

Without a resolution to the conflict, the future for this next generation of Syrian children remains bleak. The war in Syria was partially started in light of the Arab Spring, and stemmed from pro-democracy activists. However, the situation continues to deteriorate and the conditions that motivated Alan Kurdi and his family to flee only seem likely to push future generations into attempting the risky crossing themselves.

Geir Pedersen, the UN Special envoy to Syria said:

“Hundreds of thousands of Syrians, men and women, have lost their lives. Hundreds of thousands have been detained, abducted or are missing. Human rights abuses, crimes, destruction and destitution have taken place on a monumental scale.”

However, the United Nations is facing a $1.7 billion shortfall in its budget, putting their ability to maintain life saving programmes in Syria at risk. UNICEF alone currently needs $682 million extra in funding to maintain its current programmes in the country.

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