Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Dead Syrian Boy's Aunt Reflects on Family's Journey, World's Refugee Response

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Dead Syrian Boy's Aunt Reflects on Family's Journey, World's Refugee Response

Article excerpt

Tima Kurdi reflects on Syrian refugee crisis

--

PORT COQUITLAM, B.C. - It looks like any other hair salon.

Shiny hydraulic swivel chairs sit in front of mirrored work stations. Hair-dryer seats line the far wall. Brightly coloured gels and shampoos festoon various shelves. Sweets fill a bowl beside the cash register.

But for owner Tima Kurdi, the aunt of a toddler whose horrific death beamed a spotlight on a refugee crisis and forever altered the lives of countless Syrian migrants, this space represents her extended family's future.

"I'm calling it Kurdi Hair Design," says Kurdi about the salon, nestled between a children's reading centre and an optometry clinic in a nondescript strip mall in Port Coquitlam, B.C.

"It's a family business."

On Sept. 2, the lifeless body of her nephew Alan Kurdi was discovered face down on a Turkish beach. He died alongside his mother and five-year-old brother who, like so many Syrian refugees before and since, were driven by desperation to attempt the dangerous boat crossing from Turkey to Greece.

Within hours, the chilling image had raced across the globe, eliciting shock and horror, and prompting countries to open their doors, at least temporarily, to thousands fleeing their wartorn home.

After working for years to bring her own relatives to Canada, Alan's death thrust Kurdi into the international spotlight as a spokeswoman for the refugees' plight. She travelled to Belgium, Germany and Turkey, helping give a voice to those displaced by the war in Syria.

"I'm nobody, really. I just know the stories and I lived with the suffering for so many years. And now I have the chance to speak on behalf of them. That's why," she says, explaining her advocacy work.

"I'm just a normal person who speaks from the heart."

The federal Liberals' come-from-behind election victory in October soon saw Canada pledge to welcome 25,000 refugees by the end of the year, though that deadline was extended to the beginning of March due in part to security concerns raised in the wake of the attacks in Paris.

While she praises Canada for its efforts -- and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in particular -- Kurdi worries that already the world is beginning to forget the thousands of people still struggling to escape Syria.

"That hurts me even more," she says, tears slowly streaming down her face. "Nobody's paying attention to all the suffering people. There are so many suffering people there. I'm not just talking about my family.

"They're not terrorists. They're human beings. ... They had businesses. They had jobs. They owned a house. They sent their kids to school. They're like every single one of us in the West," Kurdi says, her fingers playing anxiously with the tissue she holds in her lap.

"What do you feel when you wake up one day and you lose everything that you own in your life?" she asks. …

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