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Don't turn backs on refugees, Alan Kurdi's aunt pleads

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Berlin (AFP)

The aunt of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy whose image became a tragic symbol of the 2015 refugee crisis after his body was washed up on a Turkish beach, called on the world on Tuesday not to ignore the plight of refugees.

"We cannot close our eyes and turn our back and walk away from them," Tima Kurdi said at a press conference held by the German migrant rescue group Sea-Eye to mark five years since the boy's death.

"People all over the world continue to suffer and it's getting worse, not any better. And they are asking for help," she said.

Alan Kurdi was found on a beach near the Turkish resort of Bodrum, along with his brother Ghalib and mother Rehanna, on September 2, 2015. He was three years old.

The family drowned after their inflatable boat sank in the Aegean Sea as they were trying to reach the Greek island of Kos.

Only Alan Kurdi's father Abdullah survived the attempted journey.

"On September 2, 2015, I heard the tragic news that my sister-in-law Rehanna and my two nephews had drowned," Tima Kurdi said in the Bavarian city of Regensburg, fighting back tears.

- Boy on the beach -

Pictures of the little boy lying face down in the sand caused horror around the world, highlighting the plight of hundreds of thousands of mainly Syrian refugees trying to reach Europe.

"The image of my nephew, Alan Kurdi, the boy on the beach, was all over the media across the globe," said Tima Kurdi, who was born in Syria but now lives in Canada.

Her brother called her on the same day, telling her: "The picture of my son is the wake-up call to the world."

"Sadly, our tragedy is one of many," she said.

"I decided to speak up on behalf of all those suffering people who have no voice and said, if I couldn't save my own family, let me save others."

German rescue organisation Sea-Eye renamed its main rescue ship after Alan Kurdi.

The organisation said it is also planning to send out a second rescue boat by the end of the year named after Ghalib Kurdi.

- One million arrivals -

Migrants increasingly started arriving in Europe from 2011, the year the conflict in Syria began. But it was in 2015 that the number of people trying to enter Europe reached a peak.

The number of arrivals topped a million over the year, with more than 850,000 arriving via Greece, more than half of them from Syria.

In April 2015, some 800 migrants from West Africa drowned in the worst disaster in the Mediterranean for decades.

The migration crisis had left the European Union bitterly divided, with mostly eastern countries, including Hungary, firmly keeping their borders closed to refugees, while northern members of the bloc, including Germany, offered shelter.

The Kurdi family "decided to take a risk and leave Turkey to go somewhere they thought would mean safety and hope", Tima Kurdi said.

Five years on, the widespread closure of borders due to the coronavirus crisis has limited opportunities for migrants to cross into Europe.

At the same time, the pandemic has accelerated the use of small boats for crossings in the central Mediterranean.

The International Organization for Migration has warned of the risks that "invisible shipwrecks are occurring out of sight".

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