Image of Aylan Kurdi piles pressure on UK's Cameron

Image of Aylan Kurdi piles pressure on UK's Cameron
British PM David Cameron is under pressure to take in more refugees after the image of Aylan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian toddler washed up on a Turkish beach sparks outrage.
4 min read
03 September, 2015
The Sun newspaper has come under fire for its hypocritical stance on the tragedy

British Prime Minister David Cameron came under pressure on Thursday to take in more refugees after the image of a dead Syrian toddler washed up on a Turkish beach raised the emotional temperature of the debate, Reuters said.

Cameron was widely criticised for saying on Wednesday that he did not think the answer was to take more and more refugees but to bring peace and stability to the Middle East, hours before the harrowing image emerged.

"Mr Cameron, summer is over ... Now deal with the biggest crisis facing Europe since WW2," read a headline on the front page of The Sun, Britain's highest-selling newspaper, above the image of the lifeless boy being carried away.

Change of tone

The change of tone from a newspaper criticised by the United Nations rights chief in April after one of its columnists compared migrants to "cockroaches", was a mark of the emotional impact of the images of human suffering across Europe.

"We r nothing without compassion. Pic should make us all ashamed. We have failed in Syria. I am sorry little angel, RIP," wrote Nadhim Zahawi, a member of parliament from Cameron's Conservative Party, on Twitter, above a picture of the Syrian boy.

Some other Conservative legislators also spoke out in favour of a more compassionate stance.

Tom Tugendhat tweeted that many of his constituents wanted Britain to do more and he agreed with them, while the BBC quoted Johnny Mercer as saying mothers trying to keep their children afloat on life jackets should not think of the UK as a place that did not welcome them.

Since the start of the Syrian war, Britain has taken in 216 people under a UN-backed relocation scheme for vulnerable Syrians, and about 5,000 Syrian refugees who were able to reach Britain by their own means.

The government says that while Britain has taken in fewer refugees than other European countries, it is the most generous donor of aid money to humanitarian organizations helping Syrians in their own country and in refugee camps in the Middle East.

Closed doors

But a growing chorus of critics has dismissed that response as inadequate in the face of the unfolding tragedy.

Yvette Cooper, one of four candidates to lead the opposition Labour Party, said in a speech Britain should take in an additional 10,000 refugees.

David Miliband, a former Labour foreign secretary who now runs the International Rescue Committee, a non-governmental organisation, said he refused to believe that Britain had reached the limit of its capacity to take in refugees.

In a sign of growing grassroots disquiet with the official stance, a plan to stage a march next week through central London to Cameron's Downing Street office to show solidarity with refugees was gaining traction on Facebook.

A petition on parliament's website to accept more refugees and increase support for them had garnered close to 100,000 signatures.

The family of toddler Aylan whose lifeless body washed ashore on a Turkish beach had been repeatedly displaced by Syria's brutal four-year war, a local journalist said Thursday.

Mustefa Ebdi, a journalist in the family's original hometown of Kobane on the Turkish border in northern Syria, said the three-year-old child's family had been living in Damascus but been forced to flee the war's instability multiple times.

Constantly displaced

Turkish media had identified the family's surname as Kurdi, a possible reference to their ethnic background, but Ebdi said the actual family name was Shenu.

"They left Damascus in 2012 and headed to Aleppo, and when clashes happened there, they moved to Kobane. And again, when clashes (with the Islamic State jihadist group) happened there, they moved to Turkey," Ebdi, who spoke with a family friend hosting Aylan's devastated father, told AFP.

IS fighters launched a fierce offensive to seize Kobane in late 2014, but were pushed back in January by Kurdish militia, Syrian rebel forces and US-led coalition air strikes.

The family returned to Kobane, hoping it would be stable enough to resume their lives there, Ebdi said.

But in June, IS fighters re-entered the flashpoint town, holding hostages in several buildings in a two-day stand-off that left more than 200 civilians dead.

Insecurity forced the family to decide they had no alternative but to try to reach Europe from Turkey, said Ebdi. 

He said they stayed in Bodrum for one month, saving money and borrowing from relatives for the journey.

"They left to try to find a better life." 

The family of four left the shores of Bodrum, a glitzy Aegean resort, on a small boat on Wednesday heading towards the Greek island of Kos.

But as the waves grew more volatile, their boat flipped over, and Aylan, his four-year-old brother, Ghaleb, and their mother, Rihana, drowned.

The bodies were to be transferred from a hospital in Bodrum to Kobane for burial in the next 48 hours, according to Ebdi.

The journalist told AFP his own attempts to speak to Abdallah were futile: "I tried to speak to him, but I couldn't because he just started crying." 

Aylan is believed to be one of least 12 Syrians who have died when their boats sank trying to reach Greece.

Syria's war has left more than 240,000 people dead. More than four million have sought refuge in nearby countries, and millions more have been internally displaced.