If This Doesn't Change The Way The World Sees Refugees, What Will?

Photo: Nilufer Demir/AFP/Getty Images.
A Turkish police officer carries the body of Aylan Kurdi after he drowned off the shores in Bodrum, southern Turkey. Aylan, his mother, and his brother all drowned after a boat carrying refugees sank while trying to reach the Greek island of Kos.
Editor's note: Refinery29 has not taken the decision to publish these graphic images lightly. We have chosen to show them to draw attention to the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II and the desperate journeys of millions of people who have been forced to flee their homes because of violence and civil war. Read more about who these refugees are and why they have been forced to flee here. You can help the United Nations provide vital relief to refugees around the world by donating here.

Three-year-old Aylan Kurdi wore a red T-shirt and blue shorts, and tiny sneakers attached to his feet by Velcro. Along with his five-year-old brother, Galip, and his parents, Aylan had dreamed of escaping the violence of Syria and making a new life in Canada with his aunt, Tima.

But on Wednesday, the boat they were traveling in sank off the coast of Turkey. Their father, Abdullah, and their mother, Rehan, struggled to keep the boys' heads above the water as five-foot waves crashed down on them, Abdullah Kurdi told The New York Times.

"I rushed to my kids and wife while the boat was flipping upside down. And in a second we were all drowning in the water," Abdullah told the Times. "I started pushing them up to the surface so they could breathe…. I had to shift from one to another. I think we were in the water for three hours trying to survive."

The Times reported that Abdullah "watched helplessly as one exhausted child drowned" and then struggled to push "the other toward [their] mother so he could at least keep his head up.'" Rehan and Galip also drowned, along with at least nine other people.

Photographs of Aylan's tiny body, as well as Galip's, have finally drawn attention to the plight of the millions of refugees risking their lives to flee Syria, where civil war has claimed the lives of at least 200,000 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Photo: Nilufer Demir/AFP/Getty Images.
The body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lies on the shores in Bodrum, southern Turkey, on September 2. Aylan, his mother, and his brother all drowned after a boat carrying refugees sank while trying to reach the Greek island of Kos.
Aylan's family had fled from one part of the country to another as civil war raged, The Guardian reported. They had been living in Kobani, along the Syrian-Turkish border, when fighters from the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, launched a siege. Like hundreds of thousands of other Syrian refugees, the family fled to Turkey. The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are more than 1.9 million registered Syrian refugees living in Turkey.

Aylan and his family were living there while Abdullah's sister, Tima Kurdi, tried to sponsor their asylum application in Canada, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

But because the UN had not officially recognized the family as refugees and they didn't have exit visas to leave Turkey, they were stuck, the Citizen reported.

"I was trying to sponsor them, and 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. I was even paying rent for them in Turkey, but it is horrible the way they treat Syrians there," Tima told the Ottawa Citizen.

Tima told journalists that Abdullah said he plans to bring the bodies of his wife and children back to Syria to bury them, The Guardian reported.

More from Global News