Aged three years old, Alan Kurdi died at sea with his family after seeking sanctuary from ISIS and the Syrian Civil War. Following waves .of outcry across the world, German NGO Sea Eye, who rescues refugees at sea, .took tangible steps to honour his legacy by naming one of their fleet the ‘Alan Kurdi Ship’. 

Remembering Alan Kurdi

The self-immolation of Buddhist monk Quang Duc, Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ black power salute at the ’68 Olympics, .the Unknown Rebel standing in front of tanks at Tiananmen Square. These photos need no further explanation because they are ubiquitously buried in our collective psyche, they do not need to be seen to be felt, they are photos that we are all familiar with because they shook up the world. There are some images so powerful that they permeate public consciousness and change the course of history. The death of Alan Kurdi should be one of those pictures.

Alan Kurdi died at sea, along with his mother and brother, at the age of three on September 2nd, 2015. The picture of his lifeless body washed up on the shore of Bodrum, Turkey, made headlines around the world and .had profound implications on the Canadian election, on Angela Merkel’s refugee .policy, and on wider attitudes towards refugees. For a little while. Since Alan Kurdi’s death, however, Europe. has turned it’s back on the refugee crisis and populist governments have swept to. power on the back of anti-immigrant rhetoric in Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, and .Italy, to name a few. 

In turn, around 700 babies and children lost their lives at sea between 2015-2019 trying to reach European shores, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Just recently, in October 2020, an Iranian family .seeking asylum in the UK, including two children aged nine and. six, perished attempting to cross the English Channel; they are now among 292 asylum seekers who have died crossing the channel since 1999. 

Turkish President Recep Erdogan addresses the UN                                          General Assembly
UK reaction

In the wake of this latest tragedy, calls were made for the asylum process in the UK to be made easier, by allowing applications for refuge from outside our borders. All that has been offered, however, are palliative gestures and empty platitudes – ‘thoughts and prayers’, said Prime Minister Boris Johnson (two months removed from his call to “send away” asylum seekers who reach the UK, brandishing those who cross the channel “very bad and stupid and dangerous and criminal”).

Similar calls have fallen on deaf ears across the continent. And so, where governments have failed, NGOs continue to fight the good fight. In this instance, it is the German NGO Sea Eye that continues to honour the memory of .Alan Kurdi and all those lost at sea in search of asylum.

Alan Kurdi Ship
A Bridge Over Troubled Water

Data shows that somebody is forced to flee their home every two seconds due to conflict or persecution, and The Institute for Economics and Peace estimates that over 1 billion people could be displaced by 2050. We are currently witnessing the biggest wave of migration since the end of the Second World War, except this time European governments have shirked their responsibility and actively sabotaged the work of others, such as Médecins Sans Frontières, who were recently forced to terminate their search and rescue operations by European governments.

Sea Eye

Sea Eye, a politically and religiously independent organization funded by public donations, who operate search and rescue missions in .the Central Mediterranean using the Alan Kurdi Ship, have also come under fire. Just this September, having rescued 133 migrants, including 62 children between Libya and Lampedusa, the Italian coastguard impounded Alan Kurdi Ship and refused to allow the vessel .to dock on the grounds that there were more passengers, and life jackets, than the ship permitted (though eight people, .including a five-month old baby, were evacuated). Following an attempt by the vessel to travel to .France, the French authorities also refused the passengers and .decided they were the responsibility of the Italian authorities, as they had originally attempted to dock in Italian water.

Fortunately, after a week of heated debate, the 125 remaining passengers, were given permission to dock in Sardinia – 25 .will remain in Sardinia, while 100 will be dispersed across Europe. Sea Eye chairman Gorden Isler responded to the debacle by highlighting how Italy does not regard “those rescued at sea as people rescued from maritime distress, but as passengers on a boat.” The truth is that this can be said of Europe as a whole.

But whilst charities and NGOs such as Sea Eye continue to do awe-inspiring work, .the onus should not be placed solely on them to ensure that people do not die at sea. So far this year, 50,000 have attempted to get to Europe via the Mediterranean crossing, 600 of whom did not survive. Until a #SafePassage to Europe becomes a reality. the death toll will continue to rise and rise, and the blood will be on our hands. We cannot continue to let the death of Alan Kurdi, and hundreds of infant children just .like him, become a reality. 

If you want to find out more about the Humanitarian crisis that the world has been facing, particular at sea, check our article about "Humanitarianism and refugees at sea".

Author: Joe Clowsley

Joe Clowsley holds a master’s degree in Human Rights from the University of Sussex and a ‘Most Likely to Become Prime Minister’ award from Oakwood School.


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