Dubai: He was afraid as his tiny hands encircled his father’s fingers. His mother had dressed him in bright clothes — blue shorts and a red T-shirt. Tomorrow was going to be a good day. No more hiding when bombs exploded, no more running from the rattle of machine guns, the earth wouldn’t shake any more.
It was dark and there were a lot of people on the beach. His parents were tense, but he was going to be brave. He was three years old.
As Aylan Kurdi was carried on-board a tiny dinghy that would take him along with his parents and five-year-old brother Galip across the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece, he hugged his father tight.
It was a short distance of 3.4 kilometres. The water was quiet. Nobody expected trouble. They had each paid about $1,000 (Dh3,672) per person to the smugglers. Everybody had said it was an easy way to get across to Kos, Greece.
It was a lot of money for the Kurdi family, but the only option after their application for asylum was rejected by the Canadian government.
Turkish newspaper reports said there were many dinghies while international news agencies said there were two boats, weighed down by way too many people — 23 to be precise. Each of them designed to carry a few, but the smugglers were trying to take across many more than that — at least 10 to 13 people per dinghy.
Aylan had never been out at sea before. He was from Kobani, a tiny landlocked town in Syria, close to the southern border of Turkey. It has come under repeated attack by Daesh, forcing people to either flee across the border or die at the hands of the terrorists.
So, along with his wife Rehan, and two sons, Aylan and Galip, Abdullah fled to Turkey. They spent nearly a year there, hoping to be able to get to Canada. Canadian newspapers, quoting Abdullah’s sister, Teema Kurdi, said the family had made a privately-sponsored refugee application to the Canadian authorities that was rejected in June because of complications with applications from Turkey. Teema said the United Nations would not register them as refugees and the Turkish government would not grant exit visas.
“I was trying to sponsor them. I have my friends and my neighbours who helped me with the bank deposits, but we couldn’t get them out, and that is why they went in the boat,” she said.
As the dinghies set out to the open sea from Akyarlar in Turkey, the refugees huddled together. About 30 minutes into the crossing, the boat capsized. It was pitch dark. With no life jacket, three-year-old Aylan didn’t have a fighting chance. He drowned, along with his brother and mother. Thirteen people died in that journey.
Abdullah, his father, survived. He now plans to take the bodies of his wife and sons back to Kobani to be buried. There is refuge in death.