VANCOUVER—The aunt of a two-year-old boy whose death prompted an outcry on behalf of refugees says people must speak up and demand compassion and aid for asylum seekers after the bodies of a father and daughter turned up on a river bank in Mexico this week.
In 2015 Alan Kurdi’s body washed ashore on a beach in Turkey. Photos of the toddler, who drowned with his brother Ghalib and mother Rehanna while fleeing Syria, galvanized support for refugees around the world. His aunt, Tima Kurdi, says it’s time for people to come together again in a unified voice for refugees.
“The tragedy, the images keep coming,” Kurdi said in the living room of her home in Metro Vancouver, where a large photo of Alan and his brother Ghalib hangs over the fireplace. “If we look around there is an image coming every single day. What are we doing? Every citizen around the globe should not be silent anymore.”
On Monday Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 2-year-old daughter, Valeria, were found drowned on the banks of the Rio Grande on the United States border with Mexico. Valeria was tucked into her father’s shirt in an apparent attempt to ensure the river’s current didn’t pull her away from him.
According to the Associated Press, Martinez had placed his daughter on the river bank in the United States and doubled back to help her mother. The girl jumped back into the river and her father swam to her, reaching her before the current swept them both away.
The family was trying to reach the United States in search of asylum after fleeing violence and poverty in their native El Salvador, reports the AP.
Tima said the red pants and the way Valeria’s arm wraps around her father’s neck in the photo of the deceased pair caused the phone to fall silent when she called her brother, Alan’s father, in Iraq Wednesday morning.
Abdullah Kurdi had not seen the image of Martinez and Valeria until Tima sent him the link during the phone call. The red pants worn by Valeria were almost the same colour as the shirt Alan wore in the photo of him lying face down on the beach.
Tima said Abdullah told her it brought him back to the exact moment he was clutching his family listening to them scream as waves pushed down on them as “one by one the sea swallowed them” in the Mediterranean in 2015 after the family fled Syria hoping to ultimately arrive in Canada.
The overloaded boat the family was on capsized after the motor stopped working and they had drifted further out to sea in rough weather.
“He said to me, ‘why is it only the poor people who suffer most? Why?’ And he couldn’t speak anymore,” Tima says.
Alan’s photo mobilized action, she says, such as Canada taking in roughly 25,000 refugees in a matter of months, as well as other countries in Europe.
But it seems the world needs another wake up call, says Tima, who has become a regular advocate for refugees and has visited camps.
She said media must play a role in prompting people to act, calling the images a “good weapon” in bringing attention to the plight of refugees.
“I don’t’ want them to blur those pictures anymore,” she said. “The image can move people to take action. Enough is enough.”
She said if governments cannot take in the amount of refugees, they at least need to help countries in turmoil to ensure people don’t feel the need to flee.
The tragedy of Martinez and Valeria is one of many. The AP reports in 2018 more than 280 people died trying to cross into the U.S. from Mexico. Recently, a woman with a toddler and two babies were found dead in the Rio Grande Valley, apparently succumbing to the extreme heat.
Those opposed to helping refugees need a dose of reality and should consider themselves in the shoes of the millions of people who have fled their countries in the last decade, Tima said.
She remembered people taking shots at her brother, attacking his actions as a father by taking his family aboard the raft hoping it would take them to safety.
“Those people who actually can say that, they never went to bed hungry, they never know how it is when you don’t have a job, you cannot feed your family, you have no rights,” she said. “I don’t wish it on anybody.”
With files from the Associated Press
Jeremy Nuttall is the lead investigative reporter for Star Vancouver. Follow him on Twitter: @Nuttallreports