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Who was the boy on the beach?

Photos of a drowned Syrian child are dominating the front pages. Who was he, and how did he end up washed up on the Turkish coast?

Contains a disturbing image.

Britain’s conscience has been shaken this week by the images of a drowned toddler washed up on a beach in Turkey. The photos of the child, lying face down and lifeless on the shore, made almost every UK newspaper’s front page on Thursday morning.

So who is the child in this picture, which has succeeded where so many campaigners, charities, politicians and reporters have failed in bringing the urgency and desperation of Europe’s refugee crisis to the forefront of our minds?

Aylan Kurdi was a three-year-old Syrian-Kurd, who had been fleeing the war-torn border town of Kobani, the scene of multiple massacres by Isis, with his family. His five-year-old brother, Galip, was also found dead on the beach near the Turkish resort of Bodrum. The boys’ mother, Rehan, ended her journey there too, silent on the sand. Their father, called Abdullah, survived.

According to reports from the Turkish news agency, Doğan, their relatives broke down in tears as they identified the three bodies in the morgue of Bodrum’s state hospital yesterday.

One photo shows a Turkish police officer carrying the boy’s body:


They drowned alongside 12 others, five of them children, after two overloaded boats capsized carrying refugees from Akyarlar, on the Bodrum peninsula, to the Greek island of Kos – one of the main points of entry into Europe. The BBC reports that, of the 23 people on board these two boats, only nine are thought to have survived.

But Greece was not the Kurdi family’s final destination. They were apparently attempting to flee to Canada, as they have relatives there. According to the boys’ aunt, Teema, who lives in Vancouver, she had been trying to secure visas for them. She told the Canadian paper National Post: “I was trying to sponsor them, and I have my friends and my neighbours who helped me with the bank deposits, but we couldn’t get them out, and that is why they went in the boat. I was even paying rent for them in Turkey, but it is horrible the way they treat Syrians there.”

The Canadian MP, Fin Donnelly, confirms that he hand-delivered the Kurdis’ file to the Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Minister, Chris Alexander, earlier this year. Their visa application was rejected in June, according to Donnelly.

The family was unable to obtain exit visas from Turkey, where, according to the BBC, it is “almost impossible” for Syrian-Kurds without passports to secure documents allowing them to leave the country.

A familiar concoction of turmoil in the Middle East and lack of compassion in the West led to Aylan Kurdi's untimely death – and perhaps finally to the world taking notice.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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