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World must take urgent action on Syria, says aunt of drowned refugee boy

Published 02/09/2016

The Government is facing fresh calls to accelerate action on the refugee crisis
The Government is facing fresh calls to accelerate action on the refugee crisis

The world needs to open its eyes to the plight of refugees and do more to save them, the aunt of a Syrian boy killed while trying to get to Europe has said.

Harrowing pictures of three-year-old Alan Kurdi's tiny body on a Turkish beach in September 2015 sparked global outrage, but his family said little has changed since then.

The toddler died alongside his brother, Galip, and their mother, Rehana, as they attempted to make the crossing from Bodrum to the Greek island of Kos at the hands of people smugglers.

Tima Kurdi said the year since they died has been a "stressful and painful" one, and called on the international community to act urgently to save others from dying in the same way.

Speaking from Irbil, she told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "Why we are closing our eyes on them? Why we cannot help them? This has been continuing for the last six years. We can't watch, people are dying every single day. Children, they are innocent kids."

Her plea echoed that of Alan's father, Abdullah, who said the situation has worsened in the past 12 months.

"At first the world was anxious to help the refugees but this did not even last a month. In fact the situation got worse, the war escalated and more people are leaving," he told BBC News.

Ms Kurdi, who lives in Canada, said she felt compelled to give her family money when she saw the conditions in which they were living in Turkey after fleeing conflict in Syria.

She said it would have been difficult to bring her relatives to Canada legally and felt compelled to "give them a chance" for a better life.

"That's why I decided I want to give him (Abdullah) the money, to trust the smuggler. I wish I didn't."

She added: "We have to keep our door open. I'm calling the world leaders: please sit down at the table and talk seriously and take action and stop the war in Syria. No military solution. Political solution. We have to do it urgently."

The outcry following Alan's death led to widespread demands for more refugees to be settled in the UK.

On Friday, celebrities including Juliet Stevenson and Vanessa Redgrave, religious leaders and local politicians will urge ministers to immediately bring over hundreds of children stranded in Calais' sprawling migrant camp.

They will gather for a memorial event organised with Citizens UK outside the Home Office in London, before handing in a letter addressed to Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

It will include the names of 387 children said to be eligible for asylum in the UK, including those with family links in the country and those who are to be cared for under a Government commitment to resettle more lone refugee children from Europe.

Lord Dubs, the Labour peer and campaigner who helped force the Government into accepting an amendment to the Immigration Act compelling them to take in more lone minors from Europe, said: "I am deeply saddened that, despite repeated calls from me and others, the Government still seems to be dragging its feet on the commitments it made when the amendment in my name was accepted.

"Now that the new Government has had some weeks to settle in after the EU referendum vote there really is no excuse for any further delay. Theresa May and Amber Rudd should be taking immediate action."

Since the Act received royal assent in May, more than 30 under-18s have been accepted for transfer from within Europe, the Home Office said.

On Monday alone, Medecins Sans Frontieres said it had helped in the rescue of some 3,000 people in the central Mediterranean.

Bishop of Barking Peter Hill said: "It has been established that the UK has a legal obligation to these children, but, more to the point, this country has a moral obligation.

"As we mark the first anniversary of the death of Alan Kurdi, and remember all the other refugee children who have died trying to reach safety in the last year, I call on the Government to take a small humanitarian step in rescuing the children of Calais."

Charity ActionAid's head of humanitarian response Mike Noyes also made a call for more action on the anniversary, saying: "The UK Government and European leaders must urgently welcome more refugees into our countries and provide safe passage for those fleeing conflict and devastation. We cannot wait for another tragedy, another death of a young child to shock us into acting."

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "Our priority is to protect the best interests of children who are in need of our help."

She added: "We are in active discussions with the UNHCR, other partner organisations and the Italian, Greek and French governments to strengthen and speed up mechanisms to identify, assess and transfer unaccompanied refugee children to the UK where this in their best interests.

"We continue to work closely with the French government to ensure that children in Calais with family links in the UK are identified, receive sufficient support and can access the Dublin family reunification process without delay."

Paul Carter, the Conservative leader of Kent County Council, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that the county is "stretched to the limits" as it seeks to help young asylum seekers arriving in the UK.

"We are near and close to saturation point," he said.

"The Government have talked about introducing a national dispersal system for these young people; so far they are relying on a voluntary distribution system which so far has placed about 35 of those young people in other parts of the country.

"We believe that the Government must now introduce a national dispersal system and indeed pass regulation to allow them to do so in the spring of this year."

Meanwhile, Lord Dubs told Today he believes there is a "lack of political will" to help the children stranded in Calais.

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