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3 September 2015updated 26 Jul 2021 8:06am

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?

By Anoosh Chakelian

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:

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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.