'It has been five years since my boys died… it’s time to open your hearts'

It was a heartbreaking picture that shocked the world – a little Syrian boy lying dead, face down in a T-shirt and shorts on a distant shore after a boat taking his desperate refugee family to a new life capsized.

The heartbreaking image triggered furious calls worldwide for better treatment for refugees fleeing war-torn states – and pleas to European countries to open up their borders and let them in.

Now, five years on, the father of tragic two-year-old Alan Kurdi is begging the British Government to take another long hard look at the body of his little lad on that Turkish beach – and “open its heart”.

“It feels like not much has changed since Alan died,” said Abdullah, as 416 migrants arrived on our shores on Wednesday, the most in a single day.

One barefoot baby – not much younger than Alan – was seen in the arms of a Border Force official being brought into Dover with several other child refugees after their boats and dinghies got into trouble.



“Nobody leaves their country for no reason,” said Abdullah, 46, who also tried desperately to save Alan’s mum Rehan and four-year-old brother Ghaleb that dreadful day.

“Whether you come from Yemen or Syria, people who cross seas on boats are in dire need as their country doesn’t have basic safety and security.”

And his sister Tima – who runs a charity with Abdullah in Alan’s and Ghaleb’s names raising money for refugees in camps – adds: “The refugee situation is getting worse. Britain alone has the capacity to take in 50,000 just like that if they want to, but for politicians it’s all about power, money and who is paying the price?

“Please, let these people in. I want British people to remember that day in 2015 and that picture on the beach. How did you feel then?



“I want them to remember that moment, then look at these people at your border, asking for your help.”

So far this year, at least 5,025 migrants have arrived in boats, including a monthly record of 1,468 in August.

Asylum seekers are allowed to seek sanctuary in Britain, but there is no legal way to reach the country.

Last year we took in just 35,566 of the world’s 29.6million refugees, mainly from conflict zones such as Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq and Sudan.

Yet the world demanded more action after Alan drowned with his brother and mum as the family tried to get from Turkey to Greece in an overloaded boat after fleeing Syria.

Tima, who lives in Canada, told how she knew her nephew was the boy on the beach at Bodrum on the Aegean coast after recognising clothes he was wearing.



She had bought them on a 2014 visit to her brother who was then working in Istanbul to send money back to his family across the Turkish border in the Syrian city of Kobani.

“I remember buying that red T-shirt and those jean shorts,” she said. “I told Abdullah that Alan could wear them the next summer.”

Days later, Islamic State forces invaded Kobani and Rehan and her two boys fled into Turkey along with 60,000 others who left the city in the first 24 hours.

For the first few days, Abdullah’s boss at the clothing factory where he worked allowed the family to sleep on the floor of the kitchen.

Tima said: “Abdullah told me they had just one blanket between them. Other families were sleeping in parks.”

With little money, they ended up moving into a storage shed after a Turkish woman took pity on them.

Former hairdresser Tima – who emigrated to Canada in 1993 after an arranged marriage – paid the family’s rent of £115.

She said: “I’d given Abdullah a phone and tried to call whenever I could.”

Now Tima lives every day with guilt after sending her brother £2,800 to pay smugglers to take the family from Turkey to Greece where they hoped to make a better life.



She said: “He started hearing how other Syrian families had paid smugglers to take them to Greece.

“He phoned me and said he was going to go by himself but the next night he called back. He was crying and said there was no chance in hell he could never leave his family again.

“He was worried as none of the other families who took the trip had children as young as Alan and Ghaleb, but he felt there was no choice.

“Every day I feel guilt that I gave him that money, but what can you do when your family is desperate and needs help?”



Meanwhile, grieving Abdullah has tried to put his life back together, marrying 24-year-old Fayza in October 2017 after meeting her through friends.

The couple, who now live in Erbil, a Kurdish part of Iraq where they feel safe, have a five-month-old boy who Abdullah named after the son he lost.

He said: “I will never forget losing Alan, Ghaleb and Rehan. Not for a single day. I am lucky to have been blessed with another son.”

Her brother may have found happiness again, but Tima said he still struggles with his emotions.

This year is the first anniversary of Alan’s death that they have not spent together because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tima said: “He is happy but there is sadness too. His new wife is so like Rehan in the way she looks and acts I was shocked when I first saw her on video call.

“He decided to call his new son after the child he lost because when Alan died he was no longer Abdullah to people, but Abdullah, the father of Alan. Yet he had no Alan because he was the boy on the beach.”

Tima, who now advocates full-time for refugees, said she was moved by Match of the Day host Gary Lineker taking in a refugee recently – calling his offer “beautiful.”

She said: “People need to remember refugees don’t leave their country by choice.

“Nobody wants to leave a peaceful, beautiful life with their family to take advantage of another country.

“Nobody thinks that way.”

But their hell goes on. Aid workers told on Wednesday how more than 350 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean have been transferred to a quarantine vessel off Sicily.

Last month Sudanese refugee Abdulfatah Hamdallah, 28, drowned off the coast of France trying to make it to Britain in an inflatable dinghy with shovels for oars.

Tima added that any country who has sold arms to states like Syria had a responsibility to take in refugees.

“When a country supports war, whether directly or indirectly, it leads to refugees and poverty,” she said.

“War creates refugees and if we help destroy a country, we owe it to the people to help them.”

If you would like to donate to the family’s charity click here.

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