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Human smugglers on trial over Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi’s death

© AFP, file picture | Three-year-old Aylan Kurdi is buried along with his brother and mother at a ceremony in Kobane, Syria on September 4, 2015

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-02-11

Two alleged human smugglers went on trial Thursday in Turkey over the death of three-year-old Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, whose lifeless body was captured in a photo after it washed up on a beach in September 2015, consequently shocking the world.

The defendants, Syrian nationals Muwafaka Alabash and Asem Alfrhad, also stand accused of causing the death of four other refugees, including the toddler’s five-year-old brother Galip and mother Rihan.

The image of Aylan's lifeless body lying face down on a Turkish beach focused world attention on the refugee crisis, graphically illustrating the magnitude of the suffering, the lives destroyed and the treacherous journeys migrants risk when they take to the sea.

The three members of the Kurdi family drowned when their boat went down during the ill-fated journey from Bodrum to the Greek island of Kos. They were among the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have risked the journey to Greece in the hope of then heading to wealthier nations in northern and western Europe.

The suspects – charged with human smuggling and causing the deaths of five people "through deliberate negligence" – face up to 35 years in prison if convicted. Both have denied any responsibility over the deaths, the Dogan news agency reported from the opening hearing at the Bodrum criminal court in western Turkey, saying Aylan’s father, Abdullah Kurdi, was instead to blame because he had allegedly organised the trip and sailed the boat.

Dogan reported that Abdullah Kurdi, from the mostly Kurdish town of Kobane and who survived the shipwreck, is on trial in absentia over his role in the disaster. It was not immediately clear what charges he faces. According to the Associated Press, he returned to Syria after the boat sank.

Turkey has become the major hub for Syrian, Afghan, Iraqi, Eritrean and other refugees and migrants seeking to undertake the risky crossing to the European Union in a flow that has caused huge alarm across the continent. European countries have been strained by the influx, leading to disagreements over what to do with the large number of new arrivals and over how to share the burden.

In November, the Turkish government struck a deal with the European Union to halt the flow of refugees, in return for €3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) in financial assistance.

But the deal and wintry weather in the Mediterranean do not appear to have deterred the migrants, with boats still arriving daily in the Greek islands.

According to the International Organization of Migration, more than 400 migrants have died on that route in 2016 alone.

In 2015, Turkish authorities detained more than 4,400 smugglers suspected of organising the dangerous crossings.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

Date created : 2016-02-11

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