A German migrant rescue ship has been renamed after Syrian child refugee Aylan Kurdi, whose image sparked an international outcry over Europe’s migrant crisis after he washed up on a beach in Turkey.
German charity Sea-Eye held a ceremony to mark the occasion, which was attended by Aylan’s father, Abdullah Kurdi, and aunt Tima Kurdi, in Palma on Spain’s Balearic island of Mallorca. The boat – formerly named after Professor Albrecht Penck – will now bear the name of the three year-old who was found in September 2015.
“We are happy that a German rescue ship will carry the name of our boy. My boy on the beach must never be forgotten. Our grief for the loss is shared by many, by thousands of families who have so tragically lost sons and daughters this way,” Abdullah Kurdi said in a statement.
Aylan’s family fled Syria in 2015 when Daesh militants attacked their home city of Kobani. His father paid smugglers to take him and his family from Turkey to Greece after the Turkish government refused to grant them the exit visas to enter Canada, where they had planned to join other family members.
However their journey was tragically cut short after the weak, inflatable boat they were sailing in capsized in rough seas; eleven people drowned, including Aylan’s mother Rehanna and his brother Ghalib.
A picture of Aylan when he washed up on the beach – wearing a red t-shirt, blue shorts and black shoes, lying face-down in the sand – became iconic during the height of the refugee crisis. International humanitarian agencies called for stronger regulations to protect migrants making the treacherous journey to Europe and to stem smuggling and human trafficking.
Several migrant rescue boats have also taken to the sea to save people from the waters. Sea-Eye says it has saved more than 14,000 people from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea in more than 60 missions since it started operating in 2016.
However, anti-immigrant rhetoric has seen European governments attempt to stem arrivals from Africa and the Middle East.
Italy’s new populist government has been at the forefront of anti-migrant action, placing pressure on North African countries to prevent people from making the illegal crossings. The Libyan coast guard has been patrolling the Mediterranean Sea since striking a deal with Italy in February 2017 that empowered Libya to bring migrants back to the country, even though they are at risk of torture and abuse there, in violation of international law.
In December, 164 countries signed a non-binding commitment to the final text of the UN migration pact, the first UN deal of its kind which promotes a global approach to migration flows but “reaffirms the sovereign rights of states to determine their national migration policy” and asserts the “fundamental” importance of legal migration.
All 193 UN member states – except the United States – had initially signed the agreement in July, but it was subsequently rejected or criticised by Australia, Israel, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Latvia and the Dominican Republic, many of whom did not attend the conference in protest.