His name was Alan Kurdi

Jonathon Gatehouse on a photograph that should trouble everyone who has stood by and watched Syria’s refugee crisis unfold



Anyone who has ever had a toddler knows the pose. Conked out, face down, arms at the sides, dead to the world.

Except in this photo, Alan Kurdi isn’t asleep. His little body lies at surf’s edge on a popular tourist beach in Bodrum, Turkey, with the warm waves gently lapping at his dark hair. We know that the three-year-old is lifeless, having drowned along with his brother Galib, 5, their mother Reham, 35, and 10 other Syrian migrants when their overcrowded dinghy capsized far off the shore in the middle of the night. But somehow Alan still looks like he could be awakened with a loving touch.

There’s a policeman standing nearby. It’s difficult to tell whether he’s fiddling with a cellphone or scribbling down the terse, cop-speak details—”Just the facts, ma’am”—in a notebook. It hardly matters. Either option speaks to his—and our—puny and powerless response to one of the greatest refugee crises the world has ever known. Four million Syrians and counting have fled their endless, bloody civil war. Joined by Afghans, Iraqis, Eritreans, Libyans and others—all desperate for opportunity and asylum—more than 400,000 migrants have breached Europe’s borders so far this year, mostly by sea. The grim running tally kept by the Missing Migrants Project suggests 2,898 more have died trying.

There’s no end to the heart-wrenching photos of victims, both known and anonymous, if you can bear to look. In Alan’s case, there’s even video. Having put on some white latex gloves, the Turkish policeman gently lifts him from the sand and cradles him toward the nearby road. Water drips from the boy’s red T-shirt and blue shorts. His dangling limbs put paid to the illusion that it might all be a dream.

Delve a little further on the Internet and you can find the story of Adil Demirtas, the teenage barman who found the Kurdi brothers’ bodies on the beach—pausing to close their eyes—on his way to a breakfast shift at the neighbouring Woxxie Hotel. It looks like a lovely place, with plenty of loungers by the pool, and wide restaurant terraces overlooking the azure waters of the Aegean. The resort even boasts a brightly coloured play structure for kids, with swings, a teeter-totter and three different slides.

There are also photos of German tourists plucking “evidence” from the sea, adding to the growing pile of personal effects on the shore. There’s a woman’s watch, a pair of blue jeans and a single loafer, along with a cheap cellphone and a wallet-sized picture of a little girl in pigtails.

Further along Golden Beach—for, God help us, that’s its name—there are a number of deflated dinghies. Not robust Zodiacs, but rather, the cheap, rubber-toy version you buy down at the hardware store and fill with a foot pump. Suitable for the pool or cottage, and spectacularly ill-suited to ferry 17 people across the four kilometres of open ocean to the Greek island of Kos, the nearest part of the European Union.

First World luxury has been colliding with developing world’s desperation for months now. More than 800 people, many of them children, died when a single boat sank off the coast of Italy in April, littering the ocean with backpacks and stuffed animals. That same week, tourists and the Greek Coast Guard joined together to pluck survivors of another wreck from the surf in Rhodes. All summer long there have been pictures of holiday-makers soaking up the sun in deck chairs as refugees struggle ashore, clutching kids and their meagre possessions. The world took some notice when migrants blocked the French entrance to the Eurostar “Chunnel” in late July. (It happened again this week.) And the deaths of 71 people who suffocated in the back of a sealed truck last month, abandoned by smugglers on the side of an Austrian highway, made for shocking headlines. Yet little has changed. European efforts concentrate on trying to keep people out through fences, checkpoints and maritime patrols. Here in Canada, the Conservative government has largely treated it as someone else’s problem, pledging to take in a total of 10,000 Syrians by the end of 2018. In a statement released Thursday, Chris Alexander, the Immigration minister, claimed 2,300 have been resettled to date.

Three-year-old Alan Kurdi with his brother Galib and father Abdullah.  (REX Shutterstock)

Three-year-old Alan Kurdi with his brother Galib and father Abdullah. (REX Shutterstock)

Will this picture change things? Perhaps. Its jarring juxtaposition of innocence and impotence should trouble everyone who has so far stood by and watched the crisis unfold. But reports that the Kurdis had unsuccessfully sought to come to Canada and join relatives in British Columbia might have an even greater effect, if true. Indifference has a price, along with a name and a face.

Alan isn’t a stranger. He looks just like the little boys we know and cherish. Far happier family photos show him clutching a white teddy bear, smiling alongside his brother, and holding hands with his father, Abdullah, now a numb survivor.

“We could drive ourselves crazy with grief if we look at the millions of people in danger,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in response to a question about the image on Thursday. “We do what we can to help.”

For Alan Kurdi, it wasn’t enough.


His name was Alan Kurdi

  1. Trust Harper to say the wrong thing….again

    • What did Harper say that was wrong?

      Everything he said was true, and bang on. Instead, you should ask Mulcair why, after seeing this, the result of ISIS and the current situation in Syria / Iraq……he wants to stop using the military to help stop these barbarians.

      Mulcair and Trudeau are shamelessly using the death of this child to score cheap political points. If you want to stop the migrant exodus to Europe…..you need to stop the reason these people have to leave their own homes in the first place. You have to kill the ISIS fanatics; every last one of them.

      • And were was the world when ISIS was Burning, Drowning and Throwing people off buildings Oh but a little boy and the Media Party goes Crazy………….

        • JOEFRMEDM…

          where was the Media Party?

          Well, they were pretty busy in Canada trying to make Harper look like a war-monger who wanted to “whip out ” his F-18’s and show how big they are.

          Now that the Media has a little boys body to climb atop, they are going to make harper look bad by saying he isn’t “doing enough” while completely ignoring the fact that harper is trying to stop people from having to leave their homes in the first place.

          There is no way a Conservative will get fair air-time in Canada. Our “journalists” are simply opinion columnists. No research, no accuracy, and no neutrality required.

          • ” harper is trying to stop people from having to leave their homes in the first place. ”

            By having Canadian pilots fly right past Syrians aircraft enroute to drop the bombs that are causing the vast majority of the death, destruction and refugees?
            Pull the other one.

          • No, Tresus,

            Canadian pilots are dropping bombs on the guys in ISIS who are slaughtering innocent people in Iraq and Syria. Save the bombs for the absolute worst guys, and the ones who are trying to influence terror attacks outside of the region via YouTube.

            If ISIS is gone, then you can focus on Assad. Assad is too busy trying to save his own hide to try and get ours.

          • ” Save the bombs for the absolute worst guys”

            Who are obviously the Assad regime, who killed 7 times the number that IS killed in the past year. And whose most deadly tactic, barrel bombing, could be stopped tomorrow simply by shooting down any regime aircraft that leave the ground.

            “If ISIS is gone, then you can focus on Assad.”

            Just like was done before IS existed.

  2. This is not Europe’s problem. It is the world’s problem. And Canada should not be setting quotas on how many refugees we will take.

    • Good idea Gayle, open your home to the religious organizations that provide for the needs of refugees. That way we can get a lot more here sooner. Winter is coming so a refugee camp isn’t an option.

    • That’s right Gayle………

      currently, there are about 60 MILLION people worldwide who would love to live in a nice safe place like Canada. Should we take all of them?

      • We can’t take all of them, but we can certainly take far more than we have to date & far more than this current gov’t “plans” to.

      • How many is Germany taking – a much smaller country with a greater population density – and how many are we taking.

        It is not that hard, if you are willing to think things through. But then, I do have to consider who I am talking to…

    • Your right, it is a world problem and the United Nations should be solving it. Canada has to clean up it’s own house before taking in thousands of migrants. They should be able to live peacefully in their own country. The UN should have troops from every member nation at it’s directive and whenever there is a terrorist uprising in any country it should be stopped by the United Nations collectively. One or a few countries should not be sending troops. It is a world problem like you say and it could be stopped quickly if acted upon quickly and decisively. Veto’s should be overruled by the majority.

      • Sure. Let’s make Europe deal with all the fallout from this crisis. Why should Canada – geographically one of the largest countries in the world with one of the lowest population density rates in the world – do anything.

        It is so typically conservative to say it is someone else’s problem, and to say others have to “clean their own house” before you take any responsibility.

  3. His name was Aylan…..at least leave the child his name.

  4. Israel is much closer to Syria and as a country, Israel should be doing much more to save the poor children. Does Israel accept any refugees at all?

    • Israel accepts quite a few people fleeing persecution; even though they are a tiny country. In fact, they take in a lot of gay Muslim men and women who would otherwise be slaughtered by their own Government if they were caught.

  5. What he said is true. The picture is horrible but there are many more children in the same situation. It was reported that the family never applied for refugee status in Canada nor sponsorship but Trudeau went off on Chris Alexander…..what his words …about faking compassion now….this little boys tragic death has disgustingly become a political tool during an election. Meanwhile the truth is that his family in Canada made a mistake by not including him and his family in their application for sponsorship or refugee status.

    • GAGE G.

      The media were quick to jump on the bandwagon to blame Harper for this boys death, which is why they spent the entire day reporting things that were not true. It not that they truly believed Harper was to blame, it is that they WANTED YOU TO BELIEVE Harper was to blame. When the truth came out that what was reported was not accurate, it ruined their narrative. That will make them even more determined to find a reason to make him look bad. I will wait for the story about Canadian Aircraft possibly killing civilians in an airstrike against ISIS.

  6. That’s a pretty hard one to look at – there are no words.
    I am all for taking those people in and I don’t say this with any kind of malice – but – there are rules and conditions to adopting Canada as your sanctuary.
    There are areas of the country where people are needed and the refugee’s would be dispersed throughout Canada -not just drop them in Vancouver – Montreal – Toronto and such.
    You must learn the language of your new home – you respect our customs – beliefs and you make the changes in your life and customs to be a Canadian
    We reach out to people and welcome them into our country and the next thing you know – no prayers in church – no more “So help God” – or to do my duty to God and the Queen – no more Christ in Christmas – Happy Holiday’s my ass.
    When you come to Canada – you sign on to be Canadian – that’s all I ask.
    I also wonder why – we don’t help the women and children and why all the men don’t arm themselves and join forces to drive the enemy out of their country.
    It’s not just as easy as that – but there has to be a better way and it may not be pleasant but if you want help – you first have to take the steps to help yourself because after all the people are driven from their land the evil moves to the next and the next and then they are here.
    We need to join forces with these people – help train them – help them with the military resources – and fight side by side with them.
    WW11 thousands of soldiers different races – religions – cultures stood together and together drove the enemy from our midst and because of that there is a place in the world where people can go to and feel safe and be free.
    The Queen of England was a mechanic and driver in that little scuffle.
    They have to be destroyed – no more mister nice guy, they need a taste of their own medicine – take no prisoners – show no mercy – that’s a tough one but that is how it needs to be.


      Amen brother……..

      Be prepared for the “progressives” here to start calling you a racist, bigot, war-monger, harper troll..etc..etc…

      take it as a badge of honour coming from these fools.

    • Ahhhh, smell the freedom……to be just like THE-COMMODORE!

    • Oh you are totally right. Because that is exactly what happened when the first immigrants came to Canada. Right? Right?

  7. Amazing…..SoCons claim they are Christians, and that Canada is a Christian country…..yet when something like this happens they are revealed aa the meanest of racists.

    Do you think Jesus would come up with all these half-baked excuses to protect your white privileged way of life….while Aylan lies dead on the beach?

    • “something like this happens…” Clue in Emily. Children are dying everyday all over the world and the media isn’t there to take a picture. The people from Syria are crossing 6 countries to get to Germany. They are willing to do so by taking their families through barb wire on dangerous boat trips. They aren’t stopping in poor, safe countries. I wonder if anyone has told them that Canada is in a recession. If they know, they probably won’t want to come here, especially given the crappy winters. Of course, with you and Gayle contacted the Catholics (they report they have had few Canadians offering to take in Syrian volunteers so they will be happy with your call), maybe things will turn around. It is good and well for you to comment on white privilege when we see no evidence of you getting of your white hinny to volunteer to help with the situation. All you do is evoke the memories of a tragic death of a child whose family didn’t apply for asylum in Canada though proper channels and who had an aunt sending them money in Turkey. They made desperate bid to cross on a dingy to Europe even though they were safe in Turkey. They should have asked their sister in Canada and had those delivered by her MP to Ottawa. We in Canada have rules in all institutions. It stops que jumping. There might be a family worse off than Alyan’s whose aunt sent them $5K while they were in Turkey.

  8. I looked hard and long at this photo. I have a boy this exact age. He is beautiful, precious, important. This photo made me so angry. Dad angry. First of all, damn the perpetrators of unjust violence to hell. Nevermind taking a side, both sides are committing their share of war crimes and both will meet their share of judgement and pain. Second, shame on this “writer” for irreverently trivializing the senseless death of innocence into yet another tired and shallow “all Harper’s fault” blather.

  9. His name was Alyn not “Alan” Mcleans and all MSM trying to Canadianize the poor little kid to garnder their leftwing agenda and grow more Harper Derangement Syndrome .

  10. Nice to see Macleans is getting its money’s worth on the Conservative plane.
    With tough questions delivered by bum boy Paul Wells, your guaranteed an insider’s view of the campaign according to Stephen Harper. Wells is an absolute disgrace.

    • Oh gawd, next time Paul Wells will write a wonderful article about your boy Trudeau and you will all be praising the ground he walks on. Have you ever seen how many reporters are on the presidential plane in the US? Give it a rest.

  11. Where is the outrage over all the children who had their heads cut off because they would not deny Jesus?

    Lets get some perspective here.

  12. Sure we can/should let more refugees into Canada but why that number?
    We need to be aware of the long term effects, not just the costs. Our screening and follow up on “normal” immigration has been weak. Many examples but the ONE about the father in DDO Qc who murdered his daughters should suffice
    Like many, I will have that little boy lying on the beach burned into my memory, just like that young girl running naked down the road in Viet Nam after her village was struck by napalm
    Oh the horrors of war and human conflict from day one (Cain?) to the US civil war, Hiroshima, the holocaust, the 2 worlds wars, Viet Nam, and that other march of folly into Iraq that left the huge void for ISIS to fill.
    Sure let us help and take some of these people BUT never forget that the pressure is building up in the poor countries of the world where 80 million new births are happening every year.
    And remember that the richest (?) country in the world , the USA, is taking in 1 million legal immigrants per year since several years while sustaining some 44 million citizens on food stamps and coping with $35 trillion in total debts. Not to mention 20 million illegal immigrants already living there.
    For further edification, I urge everyone to see the “Gum Ball lecture on Immigration (via Google)
    You can discount the numbers by 50% if you wish but it shows a scary future.

  13. Is Alayn or Alan Kurdi? Some of us, fussy about these things, have been wondering. This link may have the explanation.

    “The boy on the beach had a name. Alan. Not Alayn, with a y, the way Turkish authorities spelled it, the way media reported it after his rag-doll body washed up on a Turkish beach. He was named Alan, after his Canadian cousin. A name given like a promise. This child would have a better life. But this child will have no life.weiterlesen …”http://www.ad-hoc-news.de/the-…

    I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the website, but it offers an explanation for the change in spelling that seemed to be adopted by editors everywhere, at the same time. That instantaneous editorial decision seemed quite unusual.

  14. “His name was Alan Kurdi”

    Wrong!!! his name was Aylan Kurdi. Quit Canadianizing this poor little kid’s name who’s death is being used by the MSM to attack the Canadian Government. Shame on you all.

    • No, you’re wrong. His name was “Alan”.
      And “Alan” is no more a “Canadian name” than any other.

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